Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Professor Chris Hackett

Second Supervisor

Dr. Christine Robinson


This study provides insight into the spiritual growth of girls in Mercy secondary schools in Western Australia (WA). Student spiritual growth is a fundamental priority in Catholic schools; it predicates the Church’s mission of evangelisation and aids the provision of a holistic education. Spiritual growth also enhances wellbeing through offering protective factors which may equip students in facing contextual challenges. Yet how is student spiritual growth fostered? Scholarly literature calls for further study in spiritual education (de Souza, 2016; King, 2013; Ng, 2012; Wright, 2000) suggesting a need for increased clarity about how to foster the spiritual growth of young people. This study addresses this question in the context of Catholic Mercy girls’ secondary schools in WA. The study explores the perceptions of a small sample of nine post-school women from three Mercy Education Limited (MEL) secondary schools in WA about the influences of their secondary schooling experiences on their spiritual growth.

Three facets of schooling emanated from the literature about spiritual growth in education: school culture; teacher-student relationships; and, curriculum and pedagogy. These facets informed the research questions underpinning the study. A qualitative study was implemented to explore the perceptions of the post-school women about their spiritual growth. The research was consistent with interpretivism principles through the use of phenomenological methods of data collection and analysis. To directly address the research questions, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with the sample. Specifically, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was employed to capture the essence of the post-school women’s lived experiences.

Six key findings emerged from the iterative process of IPA and generated theory. The post-school women perceived that their spiritual growth was influenced by the following elements of their Mercy schooling experiences: a sense of belonging and place; fond memories; building self-efficacy; connectedness to others; a sense of hope; and, a shared belief. Despite the small sample size, the study’s focus on the essence of spiritual growth, and its universality, may enable these findings to be transferred to other settings. These findings may stimulate professional dialogue between educators, school leaders and the wider teaching community and inspire them as they strive to foster a deepening of spiritual growth of the young people they educate.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Education Commons