The building of St Vincent de Paul's Girls' Orphanage in Napier Street, South Melbourne, had commenced by 1864, and was completed by 1867. In 1861, the Sisters of Mercy had taken over the management of the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage in Cecil Street, South Melbourne in 1861, where boys and girls were housed together until the separate girls' institution was built.
In 1872 the Sisters of Mercy established a Domestic Training Institute in their former House of Mercy in Fitzroy. Older orphan girls were transferred to the Institute from St Vincent de Paul's Girls' Orphanage, South Melbourne to be trained in domestic work. This training took the form of 'acting as servants for the adjoining boarding school', the Convent of Mercy, Nicholson Street, Fitzroy.
The Sisters 'continued to claim funds for the girls at the training institute', arguing that better training made them much more suitable for employment outside the institution. In essence, [the orphanage was] attempting to keep the children for as long as possible, presumably to protect them from the dangers and temptations that awaited them in isolated private homes. A side benefit was much-needed assistance with domestic labour.'
In 1920, St Vincent de Paul's Girls' Orphanage became independent from the Convent of Mercy.
In the late 1930s the Sisters of Mercy established a holiday home at Black Rock for the girls in St Vincent's care.
In 1957 Sister Agatha was appointed Director of St Vincent de Paul's Girls' Orphanage, and began a long and distinguished career in child and family welfare. During her time as Superior at the Orphanage, she joined the Children's Welfare Association of Victoria, the Superintendents and Matrons Association, and underwent training in child care (at the time the only training available was that offered by VCOSS). Sister Agatha, 'armed with this training, went on to conduct her own training for Sisters at St Vincent de Paul's Girls' Orphanage and to become a major proponent of training for child care workers'.
Some changes introduced by Sister Agatha at St Vincent de Paul's Girls' Orphanage included encouraging conversation at mealtimes (previously children had been expected to sit and eat in silence) and offering children more choices when it came to food. In an interview with ABC Radio in 1990, she reflected:
'For breakfast they had four kinds of cereal and fruit, if they wanted it - a boiled egg, hard or soft - two pieces of toast, four spreads … Doesn't cost any more but … it shows you care.'
06 April 2017
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000189
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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