The sisters of Mercy came to Sligo in 1846, some 68 years after the birth of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Mercy Order and just five years after her death in 1841.
Sligo town in 1846 presented a bleak prospect. The town was only recovering from the terrible cholera outbreak of 1832 when hundreds died. Now, it was bracing itself for the terrible onslaught of the Great Famine, which peaked in 1847.
Between 1846 and 1848, they focused their activities on instructing and preparing children and adults for the sacraments, visiting and caring for the sick, distributing alms to famine stricken people and training orphan girls for domestic service.
Even in the years after the Great Famine, poverty continued and the need in towns like Sligo was very great. In addition to works of mercy, education was an important ingredient in the vision of the foundress, Catherine Mc Auley. Thus, it was with this end in view that the sisters opened their schools in 1849, the first public school, Scoil Phadraig Naofa, being attended by 100 pupils.
In 1890, there were 600 girls and 200 boys enrolled in the school. The sisters also provided classes to qualify candidates as student teachers, Scholarship classes were also provided. Night classes were in operation and art, crafts, and expert lace work were taught to adult ladies from the town, thus, pioneering adult education for women at the time. While aiming at academic achievements, however, in keeping with the aspirations of the foundress, the religious and moral training of the students was paramount.
In September 1946 the first pre-intermediate class of 19 students was formed. As numbers grew and classes multiplied, the need for new accommodation became acute. Negotiations with the Department of Education were stepped up and in 1976 the student body moved from the old building to the present building, thus becoming Mercy College.
This was a time of great progress and excitement for the school. The sod for the new gym was turned and the mid 80’s saw great activity. The school grew and the gym was developed under the careful and watchful eye of Sr. Colette O’Rourke, Principal who was ably assisted by the Vice Principal Mrs. Mary McCarrick. Many different matches were played in the gym and links were forged with the wider community. School musicals and concerts were also hosted providing a stage for much talent. In 1989, Sr. Mary Forde came to Mercy College as Principal on Sr. Colette’s retirement and soon the vision to improve and expand took on new dimensions. A number of building programmes took shape and were completed – namely the addition of a new wing and a prayer room in 1992. Another extension was completed in 2001 including a new staff room and modern art and technology rooms.