This year marks the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Parramatta, N.S.W. In colonial Australia, the Church of England was the established religious church in the colony, and during the early years of transportation all convicts were required to attend Anglican services on Sundays. This included Irish Catholics as well as Jews.[30,31,38]
Early schooling in Parramatta
Educational facilities was not a priority in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. In establishing a penal settlement the British Government totally overlooked education and made no provision whatever for the instruction of the children of the period (including 17 children of convicts and 19 children of marines in the First Fleet). This education in the new settlement was controlled by the Anglican Church until the 1840s.
The early Governors were aware of the importance of education and did what lay in their power to further the cause of education. Governor Arthur Phillip in a despatch written in August 1796, stated that “A public school for the care and education of children is much wanted to save them from certain ruin,” and “the need is as great for Parramatta as for Sydney.” The Ministry turned a deaf ear to his appeal. Various gentlemen in England, among them William Wilberforce, also made the same plea.
It remained for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to provide funds for the payment of the first teachers, so in 1796 resolved to extend assistance to this new settlement. This amounted to the payment of £10 per annum and rations to three persons, one being John Tull, who has probably been incorrectly described as Parramatta’s first schoolmaster.
1791: Parramatta Dame School
As early as 1791 Parramatta had a “dame school” where a convict woman named Mary Johnson taught children the ‘three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic’, but the locality of the building is unknown.[15,16]
1796: first official school in Parramatta
John Tull arrived in Sydney in 1796 and conducted the school in the first church opened in the town, at the comer of George and Church Street, Parramatta, where the former Court House was located. He laboured there for twenty one years and died on 10 June 1817.
In 1800 James Partridge and William Maum were teaching in Parramatta but James Partridge drowned in 1803. William Maum, who was transported from Ireland for a political crime, was considered to be implicated in the Castle Hill rebellion and was sent to Norfolk Island in 1804.
A well-known teacher at Parramatta in the early 1800’s was the Rev. William Pascoe Crook, a missionary. In 1804, he opened a school in Parramatta and in August of that year he advertised in the Sydney Gazette that he was willing to have a few young gentlemen to board with him. He obtained seven boarders and thus began what was possibly the first boarding school in Australia. In 1808 he removed to Sydney, where he opened a boarding school for ladies at the comer of Hunter and Bligh Streets. The school at Parramatta flourished and attracted the children of the better class; it soon became a private school.
Catholic education in Australia: Pre-1820
Catholic education[12,13] started early in the then colony of New South Wales, with piecemeal attempts from the 1790s onwards at schooling for the children of Catholic sailors, free settlers (when these started to arrive) and Catholic convicts.
Governor Phillip Gidley King mentions in his despatch on 12 August 1806 (page 152):
1820: first Roman Catholic school in Parramatta
Commissioner John Thomas Bigge mentions in his report Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the State of The Colony of New South Wales (1822). Thirty two years after the First Fleet arrived, Father John Therry opened the first Roman Catholic School in a building in Hunter Street, Parramatta for 31 students, under the direction of Mr. George Morley (or Marley). This school was transferred to the site of the present Parramatta Marist School junior in 1837 and entrusted to the care of the Marist Brothers in 1875. This makes Parramatta Marist School the oldest Catholic school established in Australia and second oldest school in Australia after Newcastle East Primary School.[39,40]
1820: Baptism of Aboriginals
- “Catholic priests, Fathers Therry and Power baptised around 45 Aboriginal people at St Mary’s Cathedral between 1820 and 1832. The newly initiated came from Sydney, Parramatta, Richmond, Liverpool, North Shore, Five Islands, Broken Bay, and were known to be from the ‘Sydney Tribe’, ‘Cowpasture Tribes’, ‘Caddy Creek Tribe’ and ‘South Creek Tribe’.”
- Papers given at the First Australasian Catholic Congress held in Sydney in 1900, considered the language and customs of the ‘Aboriginal Tribes’ in the Northern Territory and Aboriginal art, while the Third Australasian Congress held in 1909, discussed the ‘Aborigines of Australia: Past, Present and Future’.
- Papers at these conferences were generally given by anthropologists and clergy and considered the role the church and Government played in the administration of Aboriginal affairs was for the ‘betterment of Aboriginal people’.
- By 1971 an estimated 15,000 Aboriginal people lived in metropolitan Sydney, and a high proportion of those claimed to be Catholic by virtue of being baptised into the Catholic Church.
- In 1974 Cardinal Freeman appointed Pallotine Priest Father A Mithen as full-time chaplain to the Aboriginal people of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, located in Buckland Street, Alexandria. Until 1979 he coordinated and extended the work of the church to areas of need whenever personnel were available for work. Meanwhile Father Allen Mitchell was the Catholic priest for the Aboriginal community, Archdiocese of Sydney.
- In the 1970s, the Sisters of Mercy run ‘Wunambiri’, a remedial and resource centre in Surry Hills. The centre aimed to improve the educational standards of deprived Aboriginal children and adults, and provided welfare assistance to families. The Sisters of Charity helped Aboriginal carer Mum Shirl with her work in the courts, prison visitations, medical and social work.
- Father Ted Kennedy was involved with the affairs of inter-city Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the 1970s, providing a service through St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Redfern. Although Father Ted, as he was known, was originally seen to be heading an ‘activist parish’, his intention was to make his church open to Aboriginal people. He provided opportunities for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to get together to discuss issues, while providing a training and learning program for Sisters willing to work in the field with Aboriginal people. Father Ted was also heavily involved in the housing development at the Block and in the Aboriginal Medical Service with Mum Shirl.
- There were also other Catholic agencies assisting Aboriginal people from the 1970s. For example Australian Catholic Relief raised and disbursed funds for relief aid, development and education in third world countries, but between 1974 and 1978 they looked closer to home and increased funding for Aboriginal projects from around $5000 to $85,000. Australian Catholic Relief supported projects such as the Aboriginal Medical Service, an Aboriginal Welfare Worker’s position in Redfern in 1977, and the Koori Churches Commission. From 1974 the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council also began funding Aboriginal projects.
- In 1980 the Catholic Chaplain to Aborigines sponsored the Aboriginal Justice Association, Archdiocese of Sydney. In 1982 the Archbishop of Sydney and the Pallotine Fathers and Brothers both donated funds to the Australian Aboriginal Dance Theatre Company to assist their tour of Jack Davis’ play Cake Man to Denver in the United States of America.
1833: another Roman Catholic School opened in Pennant Street (now Victoria Road), next to the church.
1838: first Presbyterian school in Parramatta was established in an old cottage at the comer of George and O’Connell Streets. It later relocated to Ross Street, then to Linden House in Macquarie Street. From 1865 to 1868 the school was conducted in a building opposite the park, in Church Street, Parramatta North but soon afterwards the school was again removed to Linden House, the upstairs portion of which was used for school purposes.
1840: first Wesleyan School was established. For many years the school was conducted in the hall attached to the Centenary Church, North Parramatta. In the same year, there were no fewer than thirteen private schools in the area with an enrollment of 418 pupils. Perhaps the most famous private school was that of Dr William Woolls, first in a building in George Street, now known as “Harrisford,” and then at “Newlands” (later known as Broughton House), across the river.
1844-1886: Roman Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta was established on 8 March 1844 and run by a committee. It was Australia’s first purpose built orphanage for Catholic children and was funded by the New South Wales Government. It housed about 320 children at time. At first they were aged 3 to 9 years, but in later years the Orphanage admitted infants and children up to the age of 14. On the 31 March 1859, it was taken over by the Good Shepherd Sisters, later known as Sisters of the Good Samaritan. In 1886 the Roman Catholic Orphan School was relocated to Manly Industrial School, and the site became the Parramatta Industrial School for Girls.
1847-1848: Board of National Education
Following an 1840s report that highlighted how the Anglican Church had failed to instruct half of the colony’s children who were of school age. In September 1847, £2,000 was set aside by the Legislative Council for the establishment of schools similar to the recommended National Schools in Ireland. In January 1848, the Board of National Education set about establishing a public education system based on the recommended adoption of the Irish National System. The first public school opened in 1848.
1852: first National School in Parramatta
Some parents did not approve of the denominational schools system and desired their children to obtain adequate education. As a result, some National Schools were established. The first National School in Parramatta was opened in 1852. William Neill, who had been teacher of the Presbyterian School in the town from 1840, took charge of the National School. After his death, Mrs Neill became the teacher, the school being conducted in a building in Ross Street which had been used as a church in the 1840’s. The school closed in 1860. It reopened in 1863 when J.H. Murray became the teacher in the Baptist Church in George Street.
In the 1860’s and 1870’s quite a number of private schools existed which have flourished in Parramatta
1866: Public School Act 1866 (NSW) introduced. The National school in Parramatta was removed north of the river to the Old 1813 Toll Gate in Church Street, immediately opposite the Old Gaol Green Reserve (now Prince Alfred Square). The building was of brick and contained three classrooms.
The Presbyterian School, which was originally carried on in Linden House, Macquarie Street, was converted into a National School in 1873 under Mr Cummings. When Linden House proved unsuitable it was decided in 1875 to erect a new school on a portion of the old military barracks. The school was completed and opened on 23 October 1876, under Headmaster J.W. Baillie. It was called Parramatta South Public School. This building still stands in Macquarie Street.
1880: Sir Henry Parke’s Public Instruction Act 1880 (NSW)
The history of Catholic education in NSW marches alongside the political history of the state and the nation. Monetary support from the government to Catholic and other non-government schools was a controversial issue, which most politicians preferred to deal with by disregard. However, in NSW and other colonies the cry of ‘free, compulsory and secular education for all’ became increasingly strident, and in 1880 the Public Instruction Act 1880 (NSW) ended what little government financial support there had been.
‘State aid’ was not to be restored until the 1960s after a group of Catholic parents in Goulburn – unable to send their children to a preparatory school which was threatened with closure because of substandard sanitary facilities, for which there was no money to repair – went ‘on strike’ and presented their children for enrolment at the over-crowded local public school in 1962. The cause gained huge national publicity and both the NSW and Commonwealth governments were forced to act.
Catholic education in NSW steadily grew, funded by dioceses, religious orders and families. NSW Catholic schools now educate over one-fifth of all school students in NSW.
Since the 1970s, there has been a steady trend of increased enrollments in NSW non-government schools – from 21.4% in 1978, to 27% over the next decade. By 1998, it was 29.4% and in 2018, 34.5% of NSW students were studying at non-government schools, with 20.9% at NSW Catholic schools (see Figure 1). Over the past 15 years, Catholic schools have taken on more than 20,000 new students.
Parramatta Marist High School, 1820-
Parramatta Marist High[19,39,40] is the oldest Catholic school in Australia with a history and tradition spanning over 190 years. Founded in 1820 by Father John Therry, the original site was adjacent to St Patrick’s Cathedral, and became a highly respected school for both boys and girls from western Sydney. From 1820 to 1875 dedicated Catholic lay teachers largely taught students attending the school. In 1875 the Marist Brothers took over the running of the school. The Marist Brothers had arrived in Australia only three years earlier and under Brother Ludovic’s direction, three Marist brothers were charged with the running of the now “Marist” school at Parramatta. The 1880s were important years for Marist. In 1888 a new monastery was built next to the school and in 1889 a Frenchman, Brother Claudius, was appointed principal of the school.
In 1918 the original stone building was demolished and replaced with the building that housed the junior school until 1994. During the 1920s and 1930s numbers continued to grow, placing more pressure on classroom accommodation. The 1940s and 1950s saw the growth and consolidation of the secondary school. Despite the erection of a new wing in 1956, the school was at breaking point by the early 1960s as enrollment reached over 1000. Consequently, the decision was taken to move the secondary classes to Westmead and leave only the primary classes at the Parramatta site.
In 1966 the school relocated to the spacious grounds attached to St. Vincent’s Boys’ Home at Westmead. Secondary students transferred immediately but Years 5 and 6 remained at Parramatta until the phasing out of the junior school at the Victoria Road site in 1994. Subsequently many more buildings were erected on the new Westmead campus so that Parramatta Marist High School could uphold the proud and successful academic tradition of Australia’s oldest Catholic school
Parramatta Marist High School offers a broad-based curriculum, with a variety of subjects to suit students’ needs. Many students at the School also seek to combine subjects from the local TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Colleges. Nearly 1000 students attend.
Our Lady of Mercy College, 1889-
Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta, is a private, Roman Catholic, day school for girls, located opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Our Lady of Mercy College was founded by a group of insightful and dedicated Sisters of Mercy who arrived in Parramatta from Callan, Ireland, in 1888, following an invitation from Cardinal Moran, the then Archbishop of Sydney. They were determined to provide a wide range of opportunities for students which could lead to work outside the home or further education – radical possibilities for girls of the late 19th century. The Sisters of Mercy opened St Mary’s School (now called Our Lady of Mercy College) in Villiers Street in January 1889, extending it in 1892 to include boarding facilities. Students were prepared for university and public service examinations. The three-storey building was opened in September 1914. The school motto, “Sub Tuum Praesidium “, is Latin for “under your protection”.
In recent years, there has been a transfer of the day-to-day running of the College from the Sisters to the College Board and the College Executive, including the appointment of the first lay Principal, Mrs Kitty Guerin, in 2003. However, the College continues to be inspired by the legacy of the Mercy Sisters and the values and vision of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy. Our Lady of Mercy College Parramatta is an independent girls’ school whose vision, mission, policies and procedures are underpinned by the following Mercy values: Mercy, Compassion, Justice, Dignity, Excellence, Hospitality, Stewardship and Service. It provides a very broad curriculum with an extensive choice of subjects to Higher School Certificate level in a technology rich learning environment. One thousand students are enrolled.
Catherine McAuley Westmead, 1966-
Catherine McAuley Westmead is a Catholic systemic school offering a comprehensive education for girls from Years 7 to 12. The school began in 1966 as a regional Catholic secondary school for girls in Years 7 to 10 on the present site. Years 11 and 12 were introduced in the mid-1980s.
The school was named after Catherine McAuley (1778-1941 ), an Irish woman who undertook charitable work by providing social services for poor women and children and education for young girls. This lifestyle and dedication to the poor led Catherine to consider joining a convent in 1830 and to establish a religious congregation in 1831 called the Sisters of Mercy. Within 10 years Catherine founded nine Convents of Mercy in Ireland and England.
Founded by this religious order, Catherine McAuley Westmead has a strong Mercy tradition. The site includes three separate schools – Catherine McAuley Westmead (all girls), Parramatta Marist High (all boys) and Mother Teresa Catholic Primary School (co-educational). There are currently 1040 students enrolled in Catherine McAuley School, with over 300 of these in Years 11 and 12. The school offers a broad curriculum, with flexible choices that cater for the wide range of student abilities.
Maronite College of the Holy Family, Harris Park 1973-
Sisters Juliette Ghorayeb and Constance Bacha laid the foundations for Our Lady of Lebanon School, aided by Monsignor Peter Ziade. The school opened its doors with an enrollment of 115 students under Our Lady of Lebanon Church, in Harris Park, on 1 January 1973. The Principals have been Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family, the first being Juliette Ghorayeb. In 1978 the sisters acquired two adjoining house blocks to accommodate the Primary school and convent. These were opened in 1982. The Secondary school followed in 1992. Our Lady of Lebanon School, which would become known as Our Lady of Lebanon College, and later as Maronite College of the Holy Family was unique for a number of reasons. Along with its sister school St Maoruns, they were the first Maronite schools in Australia. The college offers compulsory Arabic from Kindergarten to Year 8 and most of its students are of Lebanese ancestry. The College also celebrates a Maronite Catholic Liturgy. The College census of 2013 lists Primary at 687 and Secondary at 490. In 40 years the school has progressed from a 115 Primary student enrolment with classes held under the Church to a College nearing 1200 enrollments from Kindergarten to year 12 with six buildings.
Anne Tsang, Research Assistant, Parramatta Heritage Centre, City of Parramatta 2020
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