Timeline of Catholic education in Australia
Help us build the timeline of Catholic education in Australia. Submit a photo and key dates, events and historical facts from your diocese or school community.
October 1820 – First Catholic School in Australia
The first Catholic school in Australia was founded in October 1820 by Irish Catholic priest John Therry. The school, which Catholic historians believe was in Hunter Street, Parramatta, taught 31 students – seven of whom were Protestants. An Irish Catholic convict, sent to the colony being convicted of embezzlement, named George Marley opened the school for Fr Therry and ran it for three years. This school was transferred to the site of the present Parramatta Marist School junior in 1837. Parramatta Marist High School, now located in Westmead NSW traces it origins back to this first school. It seems at least two other Catholic schools were established in New South Wales before the school opened by George Marley. One school is thought to have opened between 1803 and 1806, the second early in 1817. However, both schools were closed by 1818. Photo: Old Parramatta School Classroom, Circa 1900s
1833 – Early Colony schools
By 1833, 10 Catholic schools in Australian Colonies, these early schools were opened and run by lay people.
1836 – Bishop Polding
Bishop John Bede Polding arrived in Sydney in 1835 and took control of Catholic schools. By 1836, there were 13 primary schools in operation, seven are for boys, six for girls and all have government support. Photo: Bishop John Bede Polding (public domain).
1836 – St Marys Cathedral School
In 1836, St Mary’s Cathedral College in Sydney opens.
1838 – Sisters of Charity arrive
In 1983, five Irish Sisters of Charity arrive in Sydney in response to a request from Archbishop Bede Polding and started opening schools.
1843 – First Catholic school in WA founded
In 1843, the first Catholic school opened in Western Australia by Fr John Joostens. In December 1843, building commenced on a small church, St John the Evangelist, that became Perth’s first cathedral and conducted a school in the building.
1847 – Sisters of Charity open St Josephs in Hobart
In 1847, the Sisters of Charity transfer to Hobart and establish St Joseph’s School.
1853 – first Catholic school founded in the Sandhurst Diocese
In 1853, the first Catholic school is founded in the Sandhurst Diocese on the Bendigo Goldfields.
1857 – Australian Good Samaritan Sisters founded to work in education
In 1857, Bishop Polding founds an Australian order of nuns in the Benedictine tradition, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, to work in education and social work.
1861 – first Catholic secondary school founded in the Brisbane Diocese
In 1861, the first Catholic secondary school is founded the Diocese of Brisbane, All Hallows School. The school was established by the Sisters of Mercy and is Queensland’s oldest secondary school. Photo: All Hallows’ primary school students, Sister Mary Borgia Byrne and Miss Mary Fitzgerald c.1870.
1866 – First Josephite school is founded in Penola South Australia
In 1866, Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods found the Sisters of St Joseph and the first Josephite school is opened in Penola South Australia. Photo: St Joseph’s school established in a stable in Penola (public domain)
1870s – Government funding ceases
During the 1870s and 1880s, the majority of Australian colonies had passed laws which made education free, secular and compulsory. Prior to this, governments had provided some funding assistance to Catholic schools, but all aid ceased when the Education Acts were introduced.
1879 – NSW Catholic Bishops issue joint Pastoral Letter
In 1879, the New South Wales Catholic Bishops issue a joint Pastoral Letter stating that Catholics must send their children to Catholic schools unless given special dispensation by their parish priest.
1881- St Mary’s Manly is founded
In 1881, St Mary’s in Manly is founded and it would become the first school in the Diocese of Broken Bay. Photo: St Mary’s Catholic Primary School and Church Manly in 1909.
1962 – Goulburn Strike
In 1962, the ‘Goulburn Strike’ instigated a renewed approach by Catholics to lobby the government for school funding. Catholic primary school, St Brigid’s in Goulburn closed its doors to students in protest against the NSW Department of Education’s requirement that a school of its size required three extra toilets which the parish insisted it could not afford in July, 1962. The local Catholic diocese then closed down all local Catholic primary and secondary schools and sent the children to the government schools. The strike lasted only a week but generated national debate and was seen as the tipping point for the re-establishment of government funding to Catholic schools in Australia. Image: Front cover of The Canberra Times (source: National Museum Australia)
1964 – Menzies Government introduces limited funding
The Menzies Government introduced limited federal funding for non-government schools, passing the States Grants (Science Laboratories and Technical Training) Act 1964, which provided grants for science laboratories and equipment to both government and non‐government secondary schools. Photo: Sir Robert Menzies during the federal election campaign, Perth 1963 (source National Archives of Australia A1200, L46014).
1973 – Whitlam Government introduces needs based funding model
Commonwealth funding of Catholic schools began from 1970 under the Gorton and McMahon governments, but in 1973 the Whitlam Government introduced the model of needs based funding for non-government schools due to recommendations from the Karmel Report, which remains to this day. Photo: Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1973 (source: Flickr Carl Guderian).
1974 – National Catholic Education Commission established
In 1974, the National Catholic Education Commission is established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference with then Bishop Francis Carroll as its chair. The first meeting was held in Canberra on 24-25 June 1974. In his opening address, Bishop Carrol spoke of the purposes of the Commission and the establishment of focus areas including teacher education, early childhood education, religious education for non-Catholic school students, adult and lifelong education, tertiary education, research advice and political advocacy.
1989 – University of Notre Dame Australia established
On 21 December 1989, the University of Notre Dame Australia is established by an Act of the Parliament of Western Australia. The Act receives unanimous support from both Houses of Parliament. It is recognised as Australia’s first Catholic university.
1991 – Australian Catholic University established
On 1 January 1991, the Australian Catholic University (ACU) is established following the amalgamation of four Catholic tertiary institutions in eastern Australia: Catholic College of Education Sydney in NSW; Institute of Catholic Education in Victoria; McAuley College of Queensland and Signadou College of Education in the Australian Capital Territory. These institutions had their origins in the mid-1800s, when religious orders and institutes became involved in preparing teachers for Catholic schools and, later, nurses for Catholic hospitals.
2005 – Centacare provides early childcare in Brisbane
In 2005, Centacare Child Care Services (now Catholic Early EdCare) begins providing early education and care in Archdiocese of Brisbane. Today, they operate over 130 services for families.
2019 – first Catholic day care opened in the Archdiocese of Sydney
In 2019, the first Catholic day care centre, St Therese Catholic Preschool and Long Day Care centre at Sadleir, is established in Archdiocese of Sydney by Catholic Early Childhood Services. Pictured: Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP blesses the new childcare centre in Sadleir. Photo: Kitty Beale.
2020 – Catholic education today
Today, Catholic education has grown to 1,751 Catholic schools in Australia educating around one in five or 768,000 students and employing 98,000 teachers and staff. We recognise the contribution of all those who came before us to build Catholic education in Australia and we look to the future with faith and hope for the contribution of generations to come.