200 years of Catholic education in Australia

20 March 2019
Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


Australia’s first Catholic school was opened in October 1820 by George Morley, a Roman Catholic teacher who was paid the handsome sum of one penny per student (“…provisioned from the Government Stores”, according to an account by Catholic educator Br Kelvin Canavan).

The school, which Catholic historians believe was in Hunter Street, Parramatta, taught 31 students – seven of whom were Protestants. By 1833, there were 10 Catholic schools in the colony.

There are now more than 1750 Catholic schools nationally, educating some 765,000 students.

This is one in five Australian students – a remarkable achievement considering that until the early 1970s, Catholic schools were funded almost entirely by parents and their local parish communities.

Compare this with the situation in the United States, where Catholic school enrolments peaked in the mid-1960s at around 5 million students – a time when the country’s population was some 180 million.

Today, there are less than 2 million students in United States Catholic schools, despite the US population growing to 330 million (mainly because Catholic schools in the USA receive virtually no government funding and parents must fully fund their children’s schooling).

Although the exact location of Australia’s first Catholic school is unclear, the Catholic sector will next year begin to celebrate the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia.

Keep an eye out for local events commemorating the contribution of Catholic education to Australian society.

With thanks to Catholic Schools NSW.

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