The livestreamed national event on May 24 included participants from every corner of the country coming together for Mass to mark the bicentenary of the first ‘official’ Catholic school opened in Parramatta in October 1820 by Irish Catholic priest Fr John Therry.
In Adelaide, Archbishop Patrick O’Regan celebrated Mass in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral with Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese Karol Kulczycki SDS and Emeritus Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ concelebrating.
National Catholic Education executive director Jacinta Collins said the national Mass was a highlight of the bicentenary year.
“As a faith community, our national Mass to celebrate 200 years of Catholic education holds significant meaning, particularly on the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians – the Patroness of Australia,” she said.
“The scale of Catholic education in Australia is unique in the world, serving over 777,000 students and employing over 100,000 staff.
“We are blessed to have the support of governments and our families that ensures we can make a Catholic education accessible to families in every major town and city, and in many regional, rural and remote parts of Australia.”
Catholic education began in SA in November 1844 when Francis Murphy, on receiving his appointment as the first Catholic bishop of Adelaide, sent Mr and Mrs William James from Sydney to establish the first Catholic school in a temporary chapel in Pirie St, Adelaide. By 1866, there was a Jesuit School, St Aloysius at Sevenhill, and about 20 parish schools in South Australia, including St Joseph’s School at Penola, established by Father Julian Tenison Woods and Australia’s first canonised saint, Mary MacKillop. Now known as Mary MacKillop Memorial School, it is one of the oldest continuing Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Adelaide.
Today, more than 46,800 students attend 102 Catholic schools across South Australia.
In his homily, Archbishop O’Regan spoke of the “hospitality of God” and the Gospel of the Visitation, describing the gift of education as a manifestation of the visitation of God.
He prayed “that our teachers may be inspired by the Gospel in their education of our young people and bear witness to them through their faith, hope and love, and that prayer may bear great fruit in the lives of staff and students”.
CESA director Dr Neil McGoran (pictured above) referred to the “audacity and courage” of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.
“Without doubt, audacity, and courage feature as a constant theme of Catholic Education in this State,” he said.
“This reminds us of the need to look for new horizons; to strive to truly be who we say we are; to be open to the Holy Spirit; and to be led by the question driving the Plenary Council: What might God be asking of us at this time?”
Dr McGoran thanked the nearly 250,000 staff and volunteers – clergy, religious and lay – who have ministered in schools, institutions, and offices; on committees; in associations; as advocates; or as friends since 1884.
“During this period, it is likely that close to 800,000 students have been educated in one of our schools or institutions, at least for a time,” he said.
“Some have managed to excel in their chosen fields: in the church, in business, in science, in the arts, in law, in education, on the sports field and in service to others.
“Many have witnessed to their faith by how they have lived their lives. As loving friends and parents. Through their concern for the other. Their love for nature; and through the good news that they have brought to people they meet.
“Ideally, all have, at some point in their lives, been able to give thanks for the beauty of creation that surrounds them. And hopefully, each has, at least for a time, felt the embrace of God’s tender and infinite love.
“So, to all in our communities, one and all, present and past, thank you, and congratulations!”
Cardijn College musicians, led by Genevieve Bryant, provided the music which featured the new hymn Faith in the Future, written for the bicentenary milestone by Fr Rob Galea.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent a message to Catholic schools, early learning centres and universities congratulating them on “200 wonderful years of teaching and learning”.
“I recognise the contribution of Catholic education to Australian life and I join you in celebrating this anniversary,” he said.
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