1874: Sacred Heart College, Newtown, Geelong, Victoria.

Sacred Heart College at Newtown, Geelong, contains a number of historic stained glass windows created by the Ferguson & Urie Stained Glass Company circa 1874.

Originally established as a Convent and boarding school by the Sisters of Mercy in 1860 it was extended over a number of years and in 1874 a Gothic chapel was built to the designs of Melbourne architect Thomas Anthony Kelly and was formally opened on the 24th of May 1874 [1].

The liturgical east end of the chapel contains one of the most unique stained glass windows produced by the Ferguson & Urie Company and was designed by the firm’s senior artist David Relph Drape (1821-1882). What is probably even more remarkable is that the original design for this window still exists amongst a collection of sketches by Drape at the State Library of Victoria.

“The most outstanding feature of the ornate domed sanctuary is a large stained window on the rear wall above the altar. The window was a gift to the sisters from the families of the early boarders.”[2]

Photos taken: 17th October 2013.

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The liturgical east window is technically known as a five light window with a series of smaller stained glass windows in the tracery above. The two outer lights depict the fourteen scenes of the Stations of the Cross which represent the significant events Jesus endured in the hours leading to his death.

Each of the fourteen scenes have been intricately designed and painted by Drape to closely represent the scenes as they have been represented in many publications over the centuries.

The scenes are:

1st:  Jesus is condemned to death

2nd: Jesus carries His cross

3rd: Jesus falls the first time

4th: Jesus meets his mother

5th: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross

6th Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

7th: Jesus falls the second time

8th: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

9th: Jesus falls a third time

10th: Jesus clothes are taken away

11th: Jesus is nailed to the cross

12th: Jesus dies on the cross

13th: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross

14th: Jesus is laid in the tomb

The centre light of the window contains a life size depiction of Jesus and his Sacred Heart and below that is the Pelican in the act of self sacrifice feeding its young with blood from her chest.

The smaller windows in the tracery above contain a quite complex series of biblical symbols which mostly represent some of the Instruments of the Passion. The symbolism represented in the upper tracery of the window are;

The Scourging Post

The Seamless Garment,

The Bread of Life or Holy Sponge?

The Holy Chalice & Host,

The Crown of Thorns with the Three Nails,

The La Salette Crucifix with pincers and hammer on either side.

The four evangelists depicted as their winged biblical representations;

Mathew (the Angel), Mark (the Lion), Luke (the Ox) and John (the Eagle).

The centre of this arrangement of windows in the tracery contains the “Agnus Dei” – Lamb of God carrying the victory banner with cross to represent the risen Christ, triumphant over death.

In the south wall near the east window are another two Ferguson & Urie windows set in rose or wheel shaped tracery. Each window contains three quatrefoils with biblical scenes and smaller windows around the edges contain cherubic angels to give the whole arrangement the appearance of a round window.

The first rose window contains the following three scenes:

1. St Christopher with Jesus on his shoulders – Christopher was known as a man of great strength who devoted himself to Jesus by helping travellers cross a dangerous river. One day a child asked to ride on Christopher’s shoulders across the river, but the child grew heavier and heavier with every step. When they arrived on the other side, the child identified himself as Christ and told Christopher he had just carried the weight of all the sin of the world. St Christopher is best known as the patron saint of travelers!

2. The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple – This event is described in the Gospel of Luke (2:22-40). Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth and to perform the redemption of the firstborn. Luke explicitly says that Joseph and Mary take the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb –Leviticus 12:8), by sacrificing a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. One was for the burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.

3. The Flight into Egypt – The Flight into Egypt is described in Matthew (2: 13-23), in which Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with baby Jesus after learning that King Herod intended to kill all the infants of the area in the hunt for the baby Jesus.

(The Flight into Egypt scene in this window has also been matched to one of the original drawings by Drape located at the State Library).

The second rose window contains the following three scenes:

1. The Nativity – The baby Jesus is shown in the manger with emanating rays of light.

2. The Annunciation – This is described in Luke (1:26-38) where the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to visit the Virgin Mary and told her that she was with child who was the son of God and to name him Jesus.

3. Visit of Mary to Elizabeth – The Visit of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1. 39-56).

Outside the chapel, above a door in the hallway, is a round window by Ferguson & Urie depicting the Madonna and Child and at the far end of the hallway at the landing of the first flight of stairs are two single light windows. One depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other a monogram of the letters “AM” (Auspice Maria).


The founder of Sacred Heart – Mother Mary Cecilia Xavier [Elizabeth Maguire] (c.1819-1879)

Elizabeth Maguire was the eldest daughter of Richard Maguire and Margaret McCann and was born in County Meath Ireland circa 1819 [3].

She entered the Mercy Convent in Baggot St, Dublin, Ireland on the 1st May 1843, took the name Sister Mary Cecilia Xavier and was professed on the 26th November 1845. Three of her younger siblings also followed in her footsteps [4].

On the 25th May 1855 she was elected as Mother Superior of the Baggot Street Convent for a term[5] and in 1859, Archbishop James Alipius Goold of Melbourne, petitioned the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin to establish a community in Australia at Geelong.

Mother Maguire, in the company of five other Sisters of Mercy; Sherlock, Mullally, Lynch, Manly and Ryan, they departed Liverpool in ‘Saloon Class’ aboard the Ocean Chief on the 7th September 1859[6].

On the 28th November 1859, after 83 days at sea, the ship arrived in Hobson’s Bay and the following day the ships passengers penned a testimonial letter of thanks to Captain William Brown of the Ocean Chief to which “The Six Sisters of Mercy” were a signatory to[7].

After a short stay in Melbourne as the guests of Mother Ursula Frayne at the Nicholson Street Convent in Fitzroy, they boarded the train for Geelong and arrived at St Augustine’s Orphanage on the 3rd of December;

 “ARRIVAL OF NUNS.- Amongst the passengers by the Ocean Chief were Mrs. McGuire, the superioress or the principal of Bagot-street convent, Dublin, and five other nuns of the Order of Mercy. Their ministrations will be confined for the present to Geelong, whither they go to-day, and they will assume the control and conduct of the St. Augustine’s Orphanage, and other charities of the town. Ultimately, as the sisters become more intimately acquainted with the district, their sphere of action will be extended.- Herald.”[8].

The Sacred Heart Convent of Mercy began in a house named ‘Sunville’ in the Mercer’s Hill estate at Newtown, Geelong, which was formerly owned by the wealthy Geelong solicitor Joseph William Belcher (1784-1865). As early as January 1855 agents for Belcher, who had returned to Ireland in 1852, had been advertising the property ‘to let’ with the advertisements describing it as;

“…Being a large and commodious House, is very suitable for a Boarding School, or Seminary for young ladies…”[9].

It wasn’t until January 1859 that Sunville was eventually to be used as a boarding school when Mrs Sarah Scales (c.1821-1884) [10], the wife of independent congregational minister Reverend Alfred Scales (c.1814-1893)[11], moved her pupils from their premises in Virginia street[12] to Sunville on the 18th January 1859 [13]. Mrs Scales’s boarding school was still at Sunville as late as July 1859 [14] but within a few months of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in December, the Sunville mansion and twelve acres of the surrounding Mercer’s Hill estate would become the home of the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy.

On the 17th of February 1860 the Argus Newspaper reported;

“The house and grounds known as Sunville, on Mercer’s Hill, have been purchased for a convent by the Catholic clergymen here. There are about 12 acres of pleasure-grounds attached to the mansion, which is in every respect well adapted for the purpose. Six ladies of the Order of Mercy, who were sent out from the parent house in Dublin by Mrs. Cecilia Zavier McGuire [sic], have arrived in Geelong, for the purpose of establishing this new institution. Some of these ladies are said to have been in the Crimea on the same holy errand. They will attend the poor, the maimed, the sick, and the dying at their own homes, and in the public hospitals, and will superintend a boarding and day school to be attached to the institution. Mrs. McGuire is the founder of the Mater Miserecordia [sic] Hospital also. The house and grounds of Sunville are beautifully situated for the purpose for which they have been brought.”[15]

In late April 1860 the Sisters advertised for their first boarders and Mother Mary Cecilia Xavier Maguire would be the first Mother Superior of the new institution[16].

The following fourteen years saw the rapid expansion of the convent buildings with the Orphanage building erected in 1864, the boarding school in 1869 and the chapel in 1874.  The construction of the chapel was not without mishap as the newly erected belfry-wall and corridor-gable blew down in a storm on the 19th December 1873[17]. They decided not to continue with the construction of the belfry and within six months the building was ready to be opened.

The official opening occurred on Sunday the 24th May 1874 and the Melbourne Argus reported;

“The new conventual church at Newtown-hill was formally opened this morning, in the presence of about 400 persons. The dedication ceremony was performed by the vicar-general. Previous to this the children of the convent formed a long procession, and marched several times through and around the church. They were all dressed in white. The children of St. Mary’s headed the procession, wearing wreaths of blue flowers and scarfs of the same colour. The children of the Sacred Heart followed, wearing rich crimson regalia. Then came the children of St. Catherine’s, with brilliant green scarfs, followed by the Orphan and Industrial School children. The effect altogether was very striking. After the dedication ceremony, High Mass was celebrated by the Archdeacon Slattery, assisted by the Rev. Fathers Kelly and Hegarty. The Rev. Father Kelly afterwards preached a sermon suitable to the occasion. About £300 was obtained from the collection. During the afternoon two young ladies took the veil.”[18]

On the 30th August 1879 Mother Mary Cecelia Xavier Maguire died at the age of 60 and was interred in the Convent cemetery[19].

Today the historical establishment founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1860 is known as Sacred Heart College which celebrated its 150th anniversary in April 2010.


Thanks to Claudette Brennan, Archivist of Sacred Heart College, for inviting us to see and photograph the windows and for her very generous time to show us around and impart her extensive knowledge of the history of the College.


[1] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Monday 25th May 1874, page 5.

[2] Mercy Girls, The Story of Sacred Heart College Geelong 1860-2010, Watts, Turnbull, Walsh, 2010, Sacred Heart College 2010. P22.



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