Timeline of Catholic education in Australia
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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
1824 – St Mary’s Cathedral College
In 1824, St Mary’s Cathedral College in Sydney was founded.
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).
1838 – Sisters of Charity arrive
In 1838, five Irish Sisters of Charity arrive in Sydney in response to a request from Archbishop Bede Polding. In the early years the Sisters conducted visits to various schools and taught catechesis.
1843 – Christian Brothers arrive
In 1843 the Christian Brothers arrive in Australia.
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.
1846 – Sisters of Mercy arrive
In January 1846 the Sisters of Mercy arrive in Australia. That same month the first Mercy School in Australia is opened by Mother Ursula Frayne and the Perth founding Sisters of Mercy, with one student in attendance. The current Mercy School on the original 1848 convent site is Mercedes College, a ministry of Mercy Education Ltd.
1847 – Sisters of Charity arrive in Hobart
In 1847, three Sisters of Charity arrived in Hobart at the invitation of Bishop Robert Willson. Construction of the St Joseph’s School was commenced by Fr Therry years earlier and officially opened on 23 August 1847, with separate boys and girls school, and was staffed by lay teachers. The Sisters provided religious instruction to the girls of St Joseph’s School, located at the rear of St Joseph’s Church on the corner of Macquarie and Harrington Street. The Sisters exercised general supervision of the Girls School, before taking control of it at the beginning of 1848.
1848 – First Catholic school founded in Armidale
In 1848, the first Catholic school opened in Armidale 5 years before the appointment of a Parish Priest and 14 years before the Diocese of Armidale was established and 34 years before the first teaching religious came to the diocese.
1848 – Jesuit Fathers arrive
In 1848 the Jesuit Fathers arrive in Australia.
1849 – first Catholic school founded in the Ballarat Diocese
In May 1849, the first Catholic school is founded in the Ballarat Diocese, All Saints Parish School in Portland. The school was opened by Rev Michael Stevens PP and it was the second Catholic school to be opened in the Colony (the District of Port Philip, as the Victorian Colony was known). At that time, the District of Port Philip was part of the Archdiocese of Sydney, with the Diocese of Ballarat being established in 1874. St Patrick’s Parish Primary School, Port Fairy was the second Catholic school to be established in what is now the Diocese of Ballarat, only a few months later in July 1849.
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.
1860 – first Catholic school founded in the Lismore Diocese
In 1860, the first Catholic school in the Diocese of Lismore, St Joseph’s Primary School, opened in the original 1857 weatherboard Church in South Grafton. The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Grafton in 1884 and took charge when the original school was constructed in 1889. (Excerpt from: St Patrick’s South Grafton, Diocesan Centenary, 1987)
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.
1863 – St Saviour’s Primary School Toowoomba founded
In November 1863 St Patrick’s (Later renamed St Saviour’s) Primary School Toowoomba opened, which is the oldest school in the Diocese of Toowoomba.
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)
1866 – Presentation Sisters arrive
In 1866 the Presentation sisters arrived in Australia. Bishop Daniel Murphy had arranged for the Mother Superior of the Presentation Order (who happened to be his own sister), to travel from Ireland to Hobart Town. Two years after their arrival, the sisters established Mount St Mary’s (now St Mary’s College) in Harrington Street Hobart.
1867 – Dominican Sisters arrive
In 1867 the Dominican Sisters arrive in Australia.
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.
1872 – Marist Brothers arrive
In 1872 the Marist Brothers arrive in Australia.
1873 – Presentation Sisters arrive in Melbourne
In 1873, seven Presentation Sisters from Limerick, Ireland arrived in Melbourne at the invitation of Fr James Corbett of St Mary’s, East St Kilda. The Sisters’ arrival enabled local primary and secondary Catholic education to continue and flourish. The first Presentation school in Victoria, Presentation College Windsor, opened on 26 January 1874.
1875 – Loreto Sisters arrive
In 1875 Mother Gonzaga Barry, with nine companions, travelled from Ireland to Australia. The Loreto Sisters landed in Melbourne to begin their education mission in Australia, travelling to Ballarat on 20 July 1875. On 24 September 1875, the first mass was held at Loreto Abbey Mary’s Mount in Ballarat, marking Loreto’s first Australian convent and school opening.
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.
1882 – Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus arrive
In 1882 five members of the Society of the Sacred Heart, arrived in Sydney on board the SS Orient. They were Rev Mother Fébronie Vercruysse rscj, Mother Rose Dunne rscj, Mother Alice Woodward rscj, Mother Mary Jackson rscj and Sister Sarah Simpson rscj. On Friday, June 23, 1882 the Five Foundresses arrived at Claremont, Rose Bay, where they established the first Convent in Australia. On July 20, 1882, the rentrée – the ‘beginning of the school year’ – brought the first five students. In 1909, a school was established at Elizabeth Bay, known as Kincoppal. In 1971, the two schools amalgamated to become Kincoppal-Rose Bay, School of the Sacred Heart. Today it is a co-educational school from Early Learning to Year 6, and Day/Boarding School for girls from Year 7 to Year 12. In 1888, the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart founded Sacré Coeur in Melbourne, followed by Stuartholme in Brisbane in 1920.
1882 – Ursuline Sisters arrive in Armidale
In 1882, the Ursuline Sisters began their Australian work in Armidale. They were nearly all Germans who had been refugees in London and were invited to Armidale by Australia’s first Bishop to be neither British nor Irish, the Italian-born, Elzear Torreggiani.
1882 – Faithful Companions of Jesus Sisters arrive
In 1882, the Faithful Companions of Jesus Sisters (FCJ) arrived in Australia. The first twelve FCJ sisters travelled from Liverpool in England, arriving in Melbourne after a six-week journey.
1883 – Brigidine Sisters arrive
In 1883 the Brigidine Sisters arrive in Australia.
1883 – Patrician Brothers arrive
In 1883, two Patrician Brothers arrived in Sydney from Ireland, invited by Bishop Murray of Maitland, Bishop Quinn of Bathurst, and Bishop Lanigan of Goulburn, to administer schools in their dioceses. In 1884, twelve more Patrician Brothers arrived in Sydney from Ireland immediately dispersing to the country towns of Maitland, Bathurst, and Goulburn.
1885 – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Sisters arrive
In 1885 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Sisters arrive in Australia.
1890 – Sisters of Our Lady of Sion arrive
In 1890, seven sisters of Our Lady of Sion arrive in Sale, Victoria at the invitation of Bishop James Corbett. They began a girls’ Secondary Boarding and Day School soon after their arrival and they were also invited to take responsibility for the existing Primary School. Eight years later, four Sisters of Our Lady of Sion make a foundation in Bairnsdale Victoria, and began St. Mary’s Secondary College and became responsible for the existing Primary School.
1922 – Salesians arrive
In 1922, a group of Salesians was sent to the Kimberley region of Western Australia at the express request of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide (the Vatican body responsible at the time for organising the Church’s missionary work). Propaganda Fide saw this as an important missionary expedition and so made the leader of the band Bishop Ernest Coppo, and the remainder of the party was made up of four priests and three brothers.
1926 – Presentation Sisters establish first Brisbane foundation
On 27 September 1926 the Presentation Sisters establish their first Brisbane foundation, St Rita’s College in Clayfield. St Rita’s College opened as a Kindergarten to Year 12 school with an enrolment of sixteen students.
1928 – First Catholic school in Canberra opened
The first Catholic school in Canberra was St Christopher’s Primary, Manuka, founded by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan on 30 January 1928 with six teachers and 140 students from Kindergarten to Leaving Certificate. A commemorative book Ringing in the Years: Canberra’s Catholic Schools, Celebrating the Centenary by Jenny Jeffery was published in 2013 and details all Catholic schools in Canberra and their history. Photo: Students in front of the school building on their first day of school in 1928.
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. Photo: UNDA’s inauguration ceremony in Perth, 2 July 1991.
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. Photo: Former ACU Vice Chancellor Peter Sheehan AO.
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 – Catholic Religious Institute and Ministerial Public Juridic Persons Victorian Schools Ltd commences.
In 2019 the Catholic Religious Institute and Ministerial Public Juridic Persons Victorian Schools Ltd (CRMV) commenced.
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.
2021 – Catholic education today
Today, Catholic education has grown to 1,755 Catholic schools in Australia educating around one in five or 777,000 students and employing over 100,000 teachers and staff. We recognise the contribution of all those who came before us to build Catholic education in Australia and we look forward with great ‘faith in the future’ and hope for the contribution of generations to come. (*2020 figures) The Bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia was officially celebrated in 2021 with a national launch on 18 February, a national Mass on 24 May, Family Week from 8-14 August and the Virtual Symposium on 27 October, among many other local celebrations. A national prayer was released and a national song, Faith in the Future, by Fr Rob Galea was commissioned for the bicentenary.