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History, Mission, and Spirit of Mercy

The history of Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School dates back to 1861, though the legacy of Mercy began several decades earlier in Dublin, Ireland. Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, a Catholic laywoman, was born in 1778 and would come to be known as the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. As a young woman, Catherine recognized the many needs of the economically poor in early nineteenth-century Ireland and determined that she and women like her could make a difference. By 1822 she developed a program for instructing and training poor girls, distributing food and clothing to the needy, and performing other works of mercy.

1827 – Catherine used an inheritance from an Irish couple, the Callaghan Family, whom she had served for twenty years, to build a large residence where she and other laywomen sheltered homeless women, educated poor girls, and reached out to the sick and dying. The House of Mercy, located on Baggot Street, opened on September 24, a date celebrated today as Mercy Day throughout the world.

Catherine envisioned the education of women as a means to spread Christian values, affect social change, and empower women to find and achieve their fullest potential. This philosophy is the foundation of the Mercy Education schools and educational programs around the world.

1861 – The Academy first opened its doors in Assumption Parish and later moved to a private residence at Broad Street and Columbia Avenue. By August 1863, there were 28 students.

1920s – By the 1920s, both boys and girls from first through twelfth grades were being educated at the Academy. The original building at Broad and Columbia grew as adjacent building housing the convent, a chapel, and the school with an auditorium, classrooms, and a cafeteria/recreation room.

1947 – The need for more space dictated a departure from the cherished Broad and Columbia location to the newly acquired Taylor Estate in Gwynedd Valley, where the Sisters converted stables into classrooms and erected a science building to serve the Academy and the newly founded Gwynedd Mercy Junior College from 1947 to 1955.

1955 – In April 1955, the elementary and secondary schools moved into the newly completed academy building, located on the current site of Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School.

1963 – The Academy of the Sisters of Mercy became known as Gwynedd Mercy Academy.

1981 – Tremendous growth of all Gwynedd Mercy branches—the college, the high school, and the elementary school—required the need for additional space. The former Spring House Public School on Norristown Road was purchased to house the elementary division. At last, Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School has a home of its own!



Two campus expansions added a 550-seat Performing Arts Center, Chapel, Lobby, Front Office, Art Studio, Music Amphitheater and practice rooms, a multi-tiered lecture hall, and library.

2002 – The first Board of Trustees was formed to govern Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School

2005 – The Fourth Institutional Chapter of the Sisters of Mercy developed the five Critical Concerns to address the most vital needs of our time, encouraging our response:

  • Non-violence
  • Women
  • Racism
  • Immigration
  • Earth

2015 – Addition of Sr. Patricia Flynn, RSM Learning Commons houses a MAC lab, technology and resources center, and collaborative workspaces.

2017 – The Board of Trustees approved the appointment of the first President and lay leader of Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School

Mercy Education, comprised of 58 Mercy educational ministries including schools in Argentina, Belize, Guam, Honduras, Jamaica, the Philippines, and the United States, was established.

2018 – Construction of a multi-sport complex—with a synthetic turf field, expanded track & field facilities, and a natural grass field—launch of a Rowing program, and creation of internship programs expand academic, athletic, scholarship, and professional opportunities for students.

2020 – A five-year strategic plan launched, forever impacting how Gwynedd Mercy women are educated, inspired, and empowered to be merciful in spirit, innovative in thought, and courageous in leadership.

Today, the Sisters of Mercy continue to nurture young women in the character and spirit of Catherine McAuley. In 1861, it was this same mission and dedication to women that compelled the sisters to establish the Academy of the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia.

In 1861, it was this same mission and dedication to women that compelled the sisters to establish the Academy of the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia.