Federal Parliament marks the bicentenary of Catholic education

30 June 2021
(L-R) Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Executive Director Greg Whitby, Joanne Ryan MP, Julian Leeser MP, Diocese of Parramatta Chief of Operations & Finance Geoff Officer and Julie Owens MP. Image: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta/Supplied


On Wednesday 23 June, Federal Members of Parliament jointly supported a private member’s motion to acknowledge 200 years of Catholic education in Australia, which marks the anniversary of the first official Catholic school opened on Hunter Street in Parramatta in October 1820.

Member for Parramatta Julie Owens MP moved the motion, which was supported by five other members.

Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta executive director Greg Whitby AM KSG, Diocese of Parramatta Chief of Operations & Finance Geoff Officer and other members of staff attended the parliament.

“It’s with great pleasure that I rise today to acknowledge the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia,” Ms Owens said.

“Two of the schools in my electorate, St Patrick’s Parramatta and Parramatta Marist High School, trace their origins back to that very first school on Hunter Street.

“I want to congratulate all the Catholic schools on what is now their third century,” Ms Owens said. “Congratulations to their teachers, staff and students on what is an incredible achievement. I know we will see many more great achievements in years to come.”


Member for Berowra Julian Leeser MP said decades before public education existed anywhere in this country, we had church schools, charity schools, which taught children from all walks of life.

“That legacy has not only been formational in Australia’s history but continues to serve the Australian community today, with the incredible service Catholic schools provide to families and communities.

“I want to express my gratitude to the Catholic Church and to the teachers, the families and the students at our Catholic schools for the important role they play in our education landscape,” Mr Lesser said.


Member for Holt Mr Anthony Byrne MP said Catholic schools have educated millions of Australians over the past 200 years.

“A faith based, values based education system that offers a comprehensive environment to develop the total person, not just educate a person,” Mr Byrne said.

“The community good that’s done by having these schools in our region, which I would completely agree with as someone who went through the Catholic education system as a student at a Christian Brothers college both in Kalgoorlie, in the far-flung regions of Western Australia, and also in Adelaide.”

Member for Bennelong Mr John Alexander OAM, MP said over the past two centuries, Catholic schools have become the largest non-government providers of schooling in Australia, with one in five school-age students attending a Catholic school.

“Catholic schools will continue to represent a vital part of the Australian educational landscape in the future,” Mr Alexander said. “This government is committed to continuing our support for Catholic schools.”

Member for Lalor Joanne Ryan MP said Catholic schools have been dedicated to ensuring equality and equity for children across the country for 200 years.

“These are faith based schools that are dedicated to social justice, and I think that’s really worth celebrating,” Ms Ryan said.

Member for Goldstein Mr Tim Wilson MP said we respect the choice of parents to be able to make decisions to educate their children in their religious and cultural traditions that reflect their aspirations and their hopes.

“We should be immensely proud of the role that the Catholic education system has played in that story, because it’s the story of our nation and how it was built.

“It is the proud tradition and stewardship of young minds, creating opportunities and driving a sense of social justice through empowerment in the Catholic tradition that we should celebrate, because that is what so many Australians look for in their education system,” said Mr Wilson.

View the motion transcript via the Hansard

With thanks to the National Catholic Education Commission.


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