In 1861, six Sisters of Mercy arrived in Brisbane and became involved in teaching, nursing and caring for homeless children. With the support of the then Bishop of Brisbane, Bishop Quinn, the Sisters of Mercy opened St Vincent’s Orphanage at Nudgee on 11 November 1867 with 47 children in residence. From that time until 1985, St Vincent’s was home to over 11,000 children.
Following on from their establishment of the St Vincent’s Orphanage at Nudgee, the Sisters of Mercy at St Vincent’s worked at the forefront of changing trends, while remaining faithful to their origins and their commitment to the poor and oppressed. In the 1960s, in response to the move away from institutionalised care, children were placed in local schools and were encouraged to have greater involvement with the community.
In 1969, a social work unit was established at St Vincent’s to plan for children’s care, improve connections with their families, maintain standards of care and liaise with the statutory authority, at that time Queensland Department of Children’s Services.
In the early 1970s, St Vincent’s commenced the first non-government family-based foster care program in Queensland Five cottages were also opened at St Vincent’s and children were cared for in a group-home environment away from the Nudgee campus. Programs were also developed to focus on the educational and employment opportunities for young people transitioning from St Vincent’s care.
In 1974, the Sisters of Mercy expanded their service to Toowoomba and joined with the Toowoomba Diocese and the St Vincent de Paul Society in opening the Fatima Family Centre.
The Fatima Family Centre provided a local response to the growing numbers of children in south-west Queensland who needed alternative care placements. Initially using a family group-home model with houseparents caring for small numbers of children in residential cottages, Fatima’s programs expanded during the 1980s in response to changing needs.
By the early 1990s, Fatima had five programs offering a continuum of care: family support, emergency placements for children under twelve years of age, foster care, adolescent residential placements and an independent living program.
During the 1980s, the Sisters of Mercy also became a significant voice and leaders in providing care for refugees in Queensland.
Over the past twenty years, in conjunction with State and Commonwealth governments, the humanitarian refugee minors program has provided placement and support services for unaccompanied minors from a diverse range of countries in South-East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Much of this work was done at The Peace Centre in Goodna, now known as MFS Goodna.
In 1996 Mercy Community Services (MCS) Family Services was formed and began offering an extensive range of programs and services across Brisbane and the Darling Downs.