Our Heritage

We continue to share in the mission of the Sisters of Mercy, to provide the highest quality health care.

The Sisters of Mercy were established in Ireland in 1831 by a remarkable visionary, Catherine McAuley. Many women joined this new community and the Sisters of Mercy spread rapidly across the world, providing education and healthcare to their communities.

With growing concern about the wellbeing of his congregation, Bishop Michael Verdon invited the Sisters of Mercy to Dunedin in the late 1890s. Upon their arrival in Dunedin in 1897, the Sisters immediately began visiting the sick, poor and lonely in their homes, and also started teaching at the parish school. By 1900 small groups of Sisters of Mercy had established foundations across New Zealand. The Sisters focussed on the education and care of children, visiting the poor and taking care of the sick, in their homes and through the establishment of hospitals.  

By the 1920s it became clear that Dunedin would be well served by a second hospital. The Sisters showed great foresight and faith as they committed themselves wholeheartedly to this new mission. By the mid-1930s the Sisters had raised enough funds to purchase a suitable property and remodel it as a hospital. They also sent two of their own to Australia for three years to complete their nurses training.  The Sisters’ vision was realised in 1936 with the blessing and opening of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital at 19 Royal Terrace, Dunedin.

For 85 years Mercy Hospital has continued to care for the health and wellbeing of the people of Otago and Southland. Our mission remains unchanged, to provide exceptional care that makes a difference.

The Sisters of Mercy continue to take an active interest in the life and work of Mercy Hospital. Our charitable outreach programme is a continuation of Catherine McAuley’s legacy of compassion and timely response to the needs of our underserved communities.

Through the Years

A small contingent of seven Sisters of Mercy arrived in Dunedin on 17 January 1897 and quickly become a cherished part of the community, visiting the sick and poor and teaching at the parish school.

Local doctors indicated that there was a need for another hospital in Dunedin and approached Bishop Whyte, who was enthusiastic in his support.

The Dunedin Sisters of Mercy committed themselves to opening a hospital and began six years of planning, studying and fundraising. In 1932, Sisters Bertrand Carroll and Vianney Phelan sailed to Australia to study nursing.

On November 1, Sisters of Mercy took possession of 19 Royal Terrace as the site of the new hospital. The house was then remodelled to accommodate 24 beds and one operating theatre. 

Mater Misericordiae Hospital was blessed on February 9 and the first patient was admitted on July 16.

The need for hospital beds and surgical facilities in Dunedin continued to grow so the Sisters began planning to build either an extension at Royal Terrace or a new hospital. The Sisters worked tirelessly to raise funds for the expansion.

Sisters of Mercy staff Port Chalmers Maternity Hospital at the request of the Otago Hospital Board. The arrangement extended beyond the initial nine month commitment, and ended up spanning eight years.

The Sisters of Mercy purchase Marinoto located at 72 Newington Avenue, Maori Hill, with the intention of building a new, larger facility.

The Mater Hospital on Royal Terrace closed and transferred to the current site in Maori Hill. The new hospital boasted 64-beds and two operating theatres.

The Sisters continued to examine international healthcare trends and observed that there was a shortage of suitable rooms for doctors who wanted to move into private practice.

Working closely with Sisters from Brisbane, Australia, the Sisters focussed on planning and building Marinoto Clinic to provide suites that consultants could lease. The space would also host radiology and laboratory services.

Inline with other hospitals owned by the Sisters of Mercy throughout New Zealand, the Sisters changed the name of the hospital from Mater Misericordiae (Latin for Mother of Mercy) to Mercy Hospital.

Marinoto Clinic was blessed and opened to the public. The main entrance to the hospital was realigned to enable access from Newington Avenue instead of Burwood Avenue.

Mercy Hospital Dunedin Limited was established and the first Board of Directors appointed to provide appropriate governance.

In response to demand, the decision was made to transition Mercy Hospital into primarily a surgical facility. The eight remaining elderly medical patients were relocated into the refurbished nurses home which became known as Mercy Care.

Renovations occur to extend the theatre suite and an Intensive Care Unit is established.

Sister Lucia Hartstonge, who was Matron from 1974 and appointed as the first CEO in 1990, retires from her position. The first lay CEO was appointed.

Mercy Heart Centre was established to provide the people of the lower South Island with specialist cardiology services. 

Sisters of Mercy Dunedin amalgamated with other groups of Sisters of Mercy throughout New Zealand and formed Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand. This group created Tiaki Manatu, Mercy Ministries NZ Trust. and in 2009 Mercy Hospital was formally transferred to this Trust.

Patient numbers continued to grow, with a shift to day surgery procedures requiring no overnight stay. Consequently, a new day surgery unit, Coolock Ward, was commissioned. At the same time, McAuley Ward was renovated to provide more single rooms and the theatre suite was extended.

Mercy Hospital is formally transferred to the Tiaki Manatu Mercy Ministries NZ Trust.

Mercy Cancer Care is established, offering Otago and Southland residents choice in oncology care and cancer treatment.

New staff and specialist four-level car park constructed on the south-east side of the campus.

Mercy Care building is renovated and renamed Mercy Care East, hosting dermatology, cardiology and other specialties that could not be accommodated within Marinoto Clinic.

To keep up with increased patient numbers, CSSD and medical stores are expanded and a rear stairwell added to the south side of the main building.

In response to the changing healthcare requirements of the Otago and Southland population, Mercy Hospital’s executive team and Board commissioned a new day surgery facility. Manaaki by Mercy is opened on 16 July, as part of Mercy Hospital's 80th anniversary celebrations. The state of the art facility provides two extra operating theatres and Mercy Cancer Care moves into the lower level, with peaceful views over Dunedin’s town belt.

Mercy Hospital's theatre suite is expanded, with a complete re-siting and refit of theatre 5, extension and refurbishment of the Post Anaesthetic Care Unit (PACU), a new theatre supplies store room and new theatre staff room. On the lower ground floor, additional staff offices are added and the main staff room is extended and an external sheltered deck added.

The hospital's front patient and visitor car park is rebuilt to expand across three levels, offering 98 car parks.

Mercy Hospital receives both the Excellence in Service award and the Supreme Business Excellence award at the biennial Westpac Otago Business Awards.

On Mercy Hospital's 85th anniversary, the opening of Callaghan Ward was celebrated. The new ward is a state of the art facility and hosts 22 patient beds.


Ownership of Mercy Hospital Dunedin Ltd transferred from Tiaki Manatu Mercy Ministries NZ Trust to Whānau Mercy Ministries on the 1st April, a new Ministerial Public Juridic Person which operates as a charitable trust. Led by lay people, this new structure will provide for enduring governance and oversight of the Sisters of Mercy charism and that of the Catholic identity.  

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