St Michael's childcare services to be taken over

THE Sisters of Mercy Parramatta are in talks with organisations wishing to take over St Michael's childcare services in Baulkham Hills.

St Michael's runs family day care, long day care and a preschool.

"We've got 49 carers who might care for four families each and our long day care, which has 26 places, is 99.4 per cent occupied," congregation leader Sr Catherine Ryan said.

Her comments follow the Sisters' surprise announcement on Wednesday they will wind down operations at St Michael's Family Centre over the next year.

"Our core mission, which is providing support to women and children, will not continue in the way it has because the buildings on that site prevent that," Sr Ryan said.

"Just to renovate the old building would cost over $3 million, but it's still not going to provide the current model of best practice.

"We might have two or three families in one cottage; one family per cottage is more appropriate.

"Another issue is the ageing population of the Sisters; we have 77 [and] 77 per cent of those sisters are over 70.

"We want to move our funds out of buildings to direct funding of services."

Between 1902 and 1982 the Sisters of Mercy cared for more than 4000 children at St Michael's.

They also provided programs for homeless and at-risk women and their children through medium-term supported accommodation, transitional housing, targeted education programs, therapeutic group work, home visiting services, counselling and supported playgroups.

"We'll honour our commitment to the 12 women and 16 children currently in supported accommodation," Sr Ryan said.

"We'll also have to find an appropriate use for the site that respects its environment."

The church would remain unaffected by their decision and 10 retired nuns would continue to live there.

Sister Majella Kearney, 94, has kept in contact with several of those she helped care for well into her retirement. She was a house mother in the cottages until 1989, and cooked, washed and cared for the more than 200 boys at the orphanage — on the site of the Hills Private Hospital — until it closed in 1969.

She said many boys were sent to the orphanage when their fathers went to war and poverty left mothers unable to support them.

"In the big orphanage we sometimes had over 100 boys under 10," she said."They weren't all real orphans, just children in need."

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