Sr Ailsa Mackinnon retires from Mercy Works

By Mary Brazell, 28 March 2019
Sr Ailsa Mackinnon RSM during her first visit to Timor-Leste in 2012. Image: Mercy Works.


Sister Ailsa Mackinnon RSM recently stepped down as Executive Director of Mercy Works.

“I’ve been in this role for seven years, and I feel like I’ve done all that I can do for the organisation, so it’s time for somebody else to take the organisation to another great place,” Sr Ailsa said.

Established in 2000, Mercy Works, part of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia and Papua New Guinea, run programs that engage partnership with challenged communities to enjoy the right to basic resources such as education, health care and social welfare.

Mercy Works have many projects such as providing education support to refugee and indigenous students in Australia, providing clean water to remote villages in Papua New Guinea and reducing the malnutrition rates in Timor-Leste.

“The most rewarding part of working for Mercy Works is seeing that the work you do makes a difference in people’s lives,” Sr Ailsa said.

The Parramatta Sisters of Mercy were a part of Sr Ailsa’s early life as she attended Mercy primary and secondary schools in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

“I didn’t have an immediate calling to the sisterhood. During secondary school, I thought I wanted to be a teacher.

“When I was at school, it was mostly the nuns who were our teachers, with a few lay teachers as well. The nuns were a great inspirational model to us in terms of their dedication, they were good teachers, they were friendly and easy to talk to.

“Gradually, as time went on, I could see that that was something that I really wanted to do,” Sr Ailsa said.

Sr Ailsa took her final vows on 8 January 1971. She taught at primary schools across western Sydney including Girraween, North Parramatta and Rydalmere and taught mathematics and religion at Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC), Parramatta where she was appointed principal in 1990.

“I had been on the staff, and I had been away from the staff, and I could see the virtue of a girls’ school such as OLMC and the difference that educating girls in a girls’ school can make in their lives.

“Teaching girls was one of Catherine McAuley’s [founder of the Sisters of Mercy] inspirations. She said that if girls are educated well, they’ll make a big difference to society.

“A highlight of my time as principal was seeing the girls mature and develop from little girls to young women and becoming involved and true to themselves.

“Also seeing the staff developing and encouraging them to develop professionally.”

Sr Ailsa Mackinnon RSM (left), former OLMC principal Kitty Guerin and OLMC teacher Gabby Scanlon. Image: Mercy Works.

When Sr Ailsa left OLMC in 2004, she was elected Congregation Leader of the Parramatta Sisters of Mercy, a role she held for six years.

During her time as congregation leader, Sr Ailsa learnt how Mercy Works made a difference in the lives of the disadvantaged and wanted to get involved.

“All the congregations of the Sisters of Mercy are supporters of Mercy Works. As leader, I would go to meetings about Mercy Works and you could see the good work they were doing.

“The Sisters of Mercy take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and we also take a vow of service to the most disadvantaged in society.

“When you work with the projects with Mercy Works, the people we work with are really the most disadvantaged in society. It’s something that’s true to our hearts.

“One example that comes to mind is when I was in Goroka, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea a couple of years ago.

“Mercy Works goes into the local prison and teaches the prisoners anger management and skills so that when they get out of prison, they can be employable. Another thing we do is that we build dormitories for boarding schools in the area.

“I went with Sr Maryanne Kolkia, one of the project co-ordinators in Goroka to visit a building site where one of those dormitories were being built. We were inspecting the site and this man ran off the building site and put his arms around Sr Maryanne and hugged her.

“She didn’t recognise him, but he said to her that he was a prisoner and that she helped change his life around and that he now had an apprenticeship working on the building site.”

Sr Ailsa Mackinnon RSM looks through a classroom window and engages with children. Image: Mercy Works.

Sr Ailsa is optimistic that Mercy Works will continue to expand into the future under the guidance of new executive director Sr Sally Bradley RSM.

“I hope that Mercy Works will continue to respond to people’s need and hopefully we will continue to expand and to meet more needs of people.

“We are very grateful to our supporters. We know that our supporters are very loyal to us and are prepared to continue their support of Mercy Works.

“I’d like to thank the Mercy Works staff for the great work that they do.

“I wish Sr Sally well. I think she’ll do a very good job. She’s very dedicated and I think that she’s going to take Mercy Works into another place that we haven’t been yet.”

In retirement, Sr Ailsa will continue in her role as Vicar for Consecrated Life for the Diocese of Parramatta and is looking forward to taking things easy.

“This is my third time retiring – I retired from OLMC, retired as Congregation Leader and now Mercy Works.

“I’m hoping to stay active with my swimming and golf.

“I don’t have any real plans, but something will come up in the future.”

For more information on Mercy Works, please visit


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