When the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Geelong in December 1859 local records showed that almost half of the children in the township had lost one or both parents. For the Sisters, caring for orphans was to become a priority.
By early 1860 the Sisters had acquired the Sunville property, on which the College now stands, and in October of that year orphaned girls from St Augustine's Orphanage in Newtown were being transferred to their care.
The orphans were housed in converted stables on the property but as numbers quickly grew the Sisters decided that their first building on the site would be an orphanage. In 1861 they opened Our Lady of Consolation Orphanage but this too was insufficient and just three years later work started on a second orphanage. St Joseph's Orphanage was opened in 1864 and a year later the orphans were joined by neglected and abused girls when the Sisters opened an Industrial School.
Although the orphanage and the boarding school operated on the same site, the orphans and boarders were kept apart. Orphans were trained for domestic service and apart from religious instruction received two hours of schooling each day.
The primary intent was to train girls for domestic service so they would become 'industrious, laborious and generally useful and not given to notions of refinement beyond their position". The Sisters guidelines for the care of orphans stated that their meals should be plain and frugal but wholesome so necessary for a life of labour".
As times changed so did the care and atitudes towards children in care. In 1927 the Newtown Orphanage was closed and the children moved to the new St Catherine's Orphanage in Highton.