In 1906, the North Sydney Sisters of Mercy opened the Mater Misericordiae (the Mater) Hospital which then went on to provide health care to all in the local community, regardless of their capacity to pay.
In 1983 the NSW State Government withdrew government funding to the Mater Hospital and as a result the General Hospital closed its doors. At the same time the Sisters of Mercy were determined to continue their ministry to those in need. They rebuilt the Mater Private Hospital in 1990 and established the Mercy Foundation. The Sisters realised that the new hospital, with no casualty section and no facilities to deal with the public, would not be able to express this commitment to the poor in the same way as they had done in the General Hospital where they had built up a reputation for its readiness to care for anyone brought to its doors. They believed in the human dignity of all persons and so were in a position to assist people who were disadvantaged.
The Sisters' purpose in establishing the Foundation was to express their commitment to the poor and to address the structural causes of poverty in a way that would not be possible in the new Private Hospital. In this way, the Mercy Foundation would be an extension of the hospital’s work and the original commitment of Catherine McAuley, Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, to care for “the poor, the sick and the uneducated.”
The Mercy Foundation was established in the spirit of Catherine McAuley, who responded to the needs of her times in a practical and generous way. It was launched on 24th September 1990.
The goal of the Foundation has always been to focus on issues that impact on the most disadvantaged people in our communities. The main aim of the Foundation is to change the structures that contribute to social inequity rather than responses that don’t challenge the systems that sustain disadvantage.
Although it is based in Sydney, since its inception the Foundation has undertaken significant work with a range of organisations throughout Australia. It has been an advocate for many groups of people and has provided financial support for the implementation of projects covering a wide range of social justice initiatives.
The Foundation, through its seed funding to the Asian Women at Work Association, played an important role in the successful ‘FairWear’ campaign, a campaign which resulted in fairer wages and better conditions for outworkers employed in the clothing and textile Industry. Other projects supported by the Mercy Foundation have included programs for refugees and asylum seekers and educational, environmental and indigenous projects throughout Sydney, New South Wales and across Australia.
In a review of the Mercy Foundation in 2007, the Sisters of Mercy and the Board decided that the future direction of the Foundation would be focussed on homelessness and chronic homelessness, with a special focus on single women and women with children.