St Catherine’s Orphanage

St Catherine's Orphanage history in brief

Foundation and early years

In 1862 the Sisters of Mercy took over the care of 22 girls from St Augustine's Orphanage. When Our Lady's Orphanage, Newtown was completed in 1864, the girls were accommodated there.

In 1928 the new St Catherine's Orphanage was opened at Highton, Geelong, caring for up to 90 girls. In 1935, the extended orphanage provided more accommodation and school facilities, later including a primary school and kindergarten.

By the late 1930s, the home was providing residential care for up to 174 girls aged from three to 16 years. The vast grounds with multiple buildings sat on 52 acres.

1950s and 1960s

By 1954, the home’s capacity had reduced to 85 girls. During the 1950s, the home's institutional feel was softened by dividing the dormitories into smaller rooms to give the children a degree of privacy. St Catherine's then placed children (supervised by individual nuns) in small groups, based on family ties.

In 1958, the orphanage was opened to boys whose sisters were already at St Catherine's.

By 1966, capacity had increased to 120, and housed boys aged up to 10 years. The on-campus school had children up to Form 2, and accepted neighborhood children.

In 1967, St Catherine's (now St Catherine's Children's Home) started dividing the original congregate care building into flats, each housing10 to 12 children of varying ages. The flats were supervised by a nun and an assistant known as 'Auntie'.

In 1968, St Catherine's decided to stabilise numbers at about 100. In an effort to keep sibling groups together, the home accepted babies and extended the upper age of boys accepted.


In 1972, St Catherine's reviewed its program and built a new small campus centre that contained both administration and residential facilities. It housed children with special needs who were not ready for placement in family group homes or foster care.

In 1972–73, in keeping with new preference for smaller, community based facilities, the Sisters bought six local residences for family group homes, and in 1974 established the Geelong Foster Care program.

By 1975, all children remaining at Highton were transferred to either family group homes or foster care. Highton was later sold to fund St Catherine's next phase of development – a new multiservice complex, the North Geelong Community and Family Centre. The new facility had an assessment and treatment centre (St Helens) and two residential units. It also offered a diversified foster care program incorporating emergency reception and pre-adoptive foster care.

St Catherine's was concerned that emotionally deprived adolescents with a long history of institutional care were missing out. To cater for this group, the Sisters established a large family home as a hostel in Candover Street, West Geelong for eight teenage girls.

The North Geelong Community and Family Centre's name was changed to Mercy Family Centre in 1976 and later Mercy Family Care.

In 1997, Mercy Family Care was amalgamated with MacKillop Family Services.

Warning about distressing information

This guide contains information that some people may find distressing. If you experienced abuse as a child or young person in an institution mentioned in this guide, it may be a difficult reading experience.Guides may also contain references to previous views, policies and practices that are regrettable and do not reflect the current views, policies or practices of the department or the State of Victoria. If you find this content distressing, please consult with a support person either from the Department of Health and Human Services or another agency.


Please note that the content of this administrative history is provided for general information only and does not purport to be comprehensive. The department does not guarantee the accuracy of this administrative history. For more information on the history of child welfare in Australia, see Find & ConnectExternal Link .


Guide to out-of-home care services 1940–2000: volume one – agency descriptions, compiled by James Jenkinson Consulting, North Melbourne, November 2001.

List of records held by the department

For information relating to the central management of care leavers and wards of state, please consult the guide to Central department wardship and out-of-home care records. These collections date back to the 1860s and include ward registers, index cards and ward files.

Voluntary Children’s Homes Files (c.1930–c.85)

File; Temporary

The files essentially record interaction between the various Voluntary Homes and the Government. This filing system was created in 1975 combining earlier correspondence and other records to create one system with ‘VH’ prefixes.

The specific files relating to St Catherine’s date from 1938 to 1983 and includes:

File VH-020

  • inspectors reports includes list of ward names and numbers, 1938
  • children’s maintenance list payment, 1952
  • declaration of establishment as approved children’s home, 1955
  • children assessed, ward number only, 1975
  • ward names, numbers, date of birth, school attending, 1976
  • north unit children in care current population only, 1983
  • name, date of birth, age on admission ward/non ward, list of wards' names, numbers attending secondary school, 1983.

File VH-020-1

  • payments associated with placement of a ward, 1976
  • program assessment report, includes details of wards (by ward number), 1976
  • correspondence re application for declaration of an establishment as an approved children’s home, 1976
  • staff list, 1976, 1978
  • brief reports on several wards including Aboriginal children, 1976
  • list wards, 1976
  • Social Welfare Department , comprehensive reports on the facilities and procedures, 1977
  • report on “Candover Place” a program developed by Mercy, 1977
  • briefing note, and copy of program for official opening, opening of extensions Mercy Family Care Treatment Centre, 1977
  • correspondence regarding evaluation and clarification of role of Mercy Family Care Centre, 1977, 1978
  • statistics, 1978
  • visit inspection report, 1978
  • submission, Barwon Reception Centre, a report, 1978
  • Barwon Regional Centre proposal report, 1978
  • correspondence re proposed transfer of two family group homes to Glastonbury, 1978, 1979
  • submission, proposal, correspondence and reports regarding a reception facility in Barwon region, 1979
  • assessment of residential child services in Barwon region, 1979
  • financial statements, 1979
  • correspondence and other documents associated with a funding review and financial situation at Mercy Family Care Centre, 1980
  • closure and sale of Family Group Home, 119 Noble Street, Newtown, 1980
  • submission for a grant listing capital assets and costs including references to current and sold properties: 119 Noble Street, 53 Candover Street, Geelong, 33 Upper Skene Street, Newtown, 40 Larcombe Street, Highton,76 Ruhamah Avenue, Bell Post Hill, 13 Mernda Parade, Belmont , 1980
  • report from superintendent, CSV, Barwon Region, recommending no additional funding for Mercy Family Care Centre, 1981
  • correspondence regarding scaling down Mercy’s operations, 1981
  • alternative auspices for Mercy’s current services, 1981
  • correspondence relating to a request for additional financial assistance, 1981
  • decision from the Order of the Sisters of Mercy to sell North Geelong complex, 1981
  • correspondence regarding financial issues, 1981
  • press release reporting on three for one grant available to Mercy, 1981
  • report from superintendent, Barwon region, relating to current situation and proposed government grant, including reference to money raised by the centre, 1981.

File VH-020-1A (Mercy Family Care Head Office)

  • Documentation on repayment of capital subsidies, sale of two family group homes at 119 Noble Street, Newtown 1979 and 4 Mountbatten Street, Grovedale 1976, 1982
  • Meeting notes, review of services and review terms of reference, Barwon Regional Centre, and correspondence on its future, 1983
  • Declaration of establishment of approved children’s homes: Helen Street, North Geelong (north and south units); 33 Upper Skene Street, Newtown; 40 Larecombe Street, Highton; 76 Ruhamah Avenue, Bell Post Hill; 13 Mernda Parade, Belmont, 1983
  • Correspondence, report, on Mercy Family Care centre assessment treatment program, 1983
  • Lists of wards in each unit, 1983
  • Assessment reports on units, 1983
  • Correspondence re sale of 76 Ruhamah Avenue on division of assets between Mercy and the department, 1983
  • Correspondence from the department advising phasing out of funding, 1985
  • Copy of Mercy Review, Draft Recommendations, 1984

File VH-096-78

  • correspondence regarding new programs, rehabilitation centre at St Catherine's, 1975
  • funds for holidays and day excursions, lists of wards 1975
  • press clippings regarding opening of Mercy Family Care Centre and closure and sale of St Catherine’s Children’s Home, 1975
  • correspondence, detailed report and recommendations regarding a private board placement through Mercy Family Care Centre for a ward (including name) 1975
  • declarations as approved children’s homes , 4 Mountbatten Street, Grovedale; 33 Upper Skene Street, Newtown; 13 Mernda Parade, Belmont, 1972; 119 Noble Street, Newtown, 1973,
  • documentation regarding, North Geelong Community and Family Centre Project, including Mercy Family Care Centre and St Catherine’s remedial treatment program, 1975.

Family Welfare Division funding and accounts files

File; Temporary

Content: These accounts and funding files are for individual children’s homes and are used to make allocations. They contain a monthly census giving names and dates of birth to calculate per capita expenses. There are annual reports of homes, income statements, reports on conditions of homes as assessed on visits. The records are loosely arranged in chronological order.

The specific file relating to St Catherine’s dates from 1971–75.

Staffing Priorities Committee, homes and hostels files (1976–83)

File; Temporary

Content: This collection comprises files documenting the recommendations for staffing positions for homes and hostels, correspondence between the Minister of Community Welfare Services and senior officers as well as funding information. The Staffing Priorities Committee made recommendations to the minister regarding priority of staffing positions required.

Individual homes and hostels are listed accompanied by comprehensive material concerning each home, family group home or hostel.

There are also minutes from the approved children's homes and hostels meetings from 1978–80.

The specific file relating to Mercy Family Care Centre dates from 1976–77.

Note that these records have had all permanent material removed and placed into the collection listed below.

Staffing Priorities Committee, homes and hostels, correspondence, guidelines for operation and minutes of meetings (1976–80)

File; Unappraised

Content: This collection contains the permanent material removed from the collection listed above. These records comprise ministerial correspondence, and Staffing Priority Committee minutes and list of members.

The Staffing Priorities Committee made recommendations to the minister regarding priority of staffing positions required.

Reviewed 10 August 2016