Celebrating 200 years of Catholic education in Australia


​Celebrating 200 years of Catholic education in Australia

The National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) will mark 200 y​ears​ of Catholic education in Australia from November 2020 to December 2021. While there is a national focus to this initiative, the emphasis will be on celebrations at local diocesan and school level. Marking this key milestone is both an acknowledgment of our history and an aspirational view to our future.

Pastoral letter​​

Australia’s bishops have written a pastoral letter to school leaders, staff, students and families to mark the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Australia. 

The letter, 200 Years Yo​ung, recognises 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. 

Honouring our legacy

In October 1820 Irish priest, Fr John Therry put his “Faith in the Future" when he founded the first Catholic school in Australia. That school, run by a former convict, George Marley, which Catholic historians believe was in Hunter Street, Parramatta, had 31 students. By 1833 the number of Catholic schools in the colony had grown to 10.

In 1845​ Catholic education made its way north to the bustling town of Brisbane. The town's first Parish Priest, Father James Hanly, employed lay people, Mary and Michael Bourke to teach 56 students in our state's first Catholic school on the site of what is now the Myer Centre in Brisbane's CBD.

Since that first school in Parramatta welcomed its foundation students, Catholic schools have educated millions of Australian children. As the largest provider of schooling in Australia (outside government), we now educate one in five Australian school-age children. This represents some 768,000 students in 1,751 schools across the country, with about 40 per cent located in regional, rural and remote communities, and employing 98,000 teachers and staff More than 75,000 of these students, from all cultures, faiths and backgrounds, are educated in BCEs 146 schools under the care of more than 11,500 teachers and support staff.


Official launch

The official launch of bicentennial celebrations will be held from 22-26 February 2021. This will involve local state, territory, and diocesan events including the Archdiocese of Brisbane's official launch at St Mary's, Ipswich, led by Auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell.  On 24 May 2021, the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians (Patron of Australia) which has been marked in Australia since 1844, but dates back to the start of the 1800s, Archbishop Mark Coleridge will concelebrate Mass at St Stephen's Cathedral in conjunction with a national Mass being held across the country.  ​​


Opportunity to share your story

The NCEC are looking to each diocese to contribute its story to the national tapestry. They are seeking life-changing, humorous or compelling tales from current and former teachers and students about how Catholic education has impacted your life. This is an opportunity to talk about your reflections on 200 years of Catholic education in Australia; how Catholic education helped shape who you are today and what hopes you have for Catholic education in the future. You might start with the school you attended, the friends and teachers you encountered; how it influenced your career path, or even where you now find yourself in life!

To find story examples go here

You can share your story by sending around 150 words and a photo or a ​short ​video to ncec@ncec.catholic.edu.au.