Celebrating 200 years of Catholic education in Australia

The bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia commemorates the anniversary of the first official Catholic school established in 1821.

Bishop McKenna celebrated Mass on 24 February 2021 at St Mary's Church, Orange to recognise the contribution of religious, clergy and lay people to the foundation of Catholic education, and the distinctive role Catholic schools play in educating and forming young people of faith and service in their communities.

Today, there are 1,751 Catholic schools educating 768,000 students and employing 98,000 staff. Nearly 40 per cent of Catholic schools are located outside of metropolitan cities in regional, rural and remote communities.

The Catholic Diocese of Bathurst provides a diverse range of educational options for more than 9,000 students who attend one of the 33 Catholic schools in the Diocese, enjoying high educational standards in contemporary, Christ-centred learning environments. In partnership with parents and parishes, our schools nurture a relationship with Jesus, educate for academic excellence and prepare students for lifelong service in a faith-centred community.

Teachers and students from across the Diocese, as well as members of the clergy, religious orders and staff from Catholic Education Diocese of Bathurst attended Mass to commemoerate this milestone.

In his homily below, Bishop Michael spoke about giving thanks to God for the many blessings, especially the faith and generosity, and the talents, of all the women and men who have worked to build and maintain one of the world’s great systems of Catholic schools.

'There is something greater than Jonah here'

Bishop McKenna's Homily at Mass
to commemorate 200 years of Catholic education in Australia
24th February 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with one of our Catholic School principals and the conversation turned to introducing children to the Bible. Where is the best place to start? One of the Gospels, perhaps Mark, would seem to be an obvious choice. The Epistles are too theological; and many books of the Hebrew scriptures can be hard going at first, even for adults.

However, there are several Old Testament books which a new reader, even a child, could find delightfully accessible. One of them is Jonah, from which today’s first reading was taken. It is very short; and has adventure, drama and even humour. The story of our hero being swallowed by the sea-monster is extravagantly enthralling. There is also the passionate poetry of his prayer from the belly of the whale. And there is Jonah himself, in fact an anti-hero: with his contrariness and slowness to understand courting tragedy, but whom the book concludes by treating almost comically. 

Jesus himself, as we heard in the Gospel just now, uses this story to deliver a powerful invitation to repentance. These readings were not especially chosen for this bicentennial occasion, but are the same scriptures to which Catholics all over the world are listening, on this Wednesday of the first week of Lent. What is the message for us, as we mark two centuries of Catholic Education in Australia? 

Self-congratulation is not a particularly Christian practice, but thanksgiving is. We can certainly thank God for the many blessings, especially the faith and generosity, and the talents, of all the women and men who have worked to build and maintain one of the world’s great systems of Catholic schools. We can thank God for leading it through times when the enterprise seemed in peril. And we give thanks daily, whenever we see life and goodness in the families, students, teachers, staff and leaders, including our priests, who make up the schools represented here today.

Of course, there has not been one of these 200 years when we have fully lived up to our call, our sacred mission. Each generation has faced different challenges and sometimes met them well, even very well; and sometimes badly, even very badly. This is why the hopeful Word of repentance is good for us to hear today.

In sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse; my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. (Psalm 51)

Jonah felt let down when God did not destroy Nineveh, after the people repented. He did not understand that repentance brings forgiveness, and forgiveness a new beginning. As Christians, our trust in the mercy of God, our hope in his power to bring life out of death, enables us to face the reality of our failures, acknowledge our wrongdoings and start again and again on the road of the Kingdom.

In our schools, in our parishes, in our hearts, “there is something greater than Jonah here”. In this Mass we offer together today, there is someone greater than Jonah here.



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