Memories from the past: The first official Catholic school in Australia started in Parramatta

16 Mar 2021

Above: Old Marist School House in Parramatta. Source: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.

On 16 May 1935, The Catholic Press newspaper declared that “Parramatta deserves the title of The Cradle of Catholicism in Australia”.

It was in Parramatta that the first Irish Catholic convicts settled and where the first Catholic priest, Fr John Therry, founded the first official Catholic school in October 1820.

The school was established on Hunter Street, Parramatta where historians believe 31 students were taught, seven of them Protestant.

George Marley (also identified as George Morley), an Irish convict, ran the school and provided rudimentary learning in reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic and bookkeeping.

The weekday program of learning was practical and secular, with the permission of Fr Therry.

On Sundays Marley taught his Catholic students separately on matters of faith.

In 1838, when the first St Patrick’s Church was built, the teachers in Parramatta were James and Eliza Hayes, there were 90 pupils and the grant from the government for the school was 80 pounds.

Lay teachers for both boys and girls conducted Catholic schools in the Parish until the 1870s, when the Marist Brothers came and Catholic denominated schools ceased to receive government subsidies.

St Patrick’s Primary, Parramatta and Parramatta Marist High in Westmead both trace their origins back to this first school.

It seems at least two other ‘Catholic’ schools were established in New South Wales before the school established by Fr John Terry. One school is thought to have opened between 1803 and 1806, the second early in 1817. However, both schools were closed by 1818.

Above: Old Marist School in Parramatta. Source: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.


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