24 May 2021
Homily given by Bishop Anthony Randazzo
Bishop of Broken Bay
Solemnity Mary Help of Christians
200th Anniversary of Catholic Schools
Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, 24 May 2021
When my family first came to Australia in 1812, schools as we know them, were non-existent. A free minority had only begun to emerge out of the social and moral limitations of a convict society from 1810. What might be described today as “home schooling”, was taken up by those who valued education and saw the need to contribute to the design and fabric of the new and evolving society. Almost a decade passed before the first Catholic School was established in 1820, opening its doors to 31 male and female students in 1821. That first cohort comprised 24 Catholics and 7 Protestants students.
It is not surprising that Fr John Therry took the lead to establish the first Catholic school. The clergy were among the most educated people in the Colony, and he was zealous to assist Catholics in Australia, especially the poor and the orphan. In this endeavour, he was supported by a group of lay faithful. Education and faith formation were two of his priorities which would benefit not only the Catholic people, but the Colony itself.
In 1822 a second Catholic school was established in Castlereagh Street in Sydney. By 1824, Fr Therry seemed to have laid the foundation for a successful system of schools that would guarantee the future of Catholic education across Australia for generations to come.
Of course, much more could be said about the history of our Catholic schools and the good works of our Pioneers. Today is not the occasion for me to do that, and so I will leave it for others who are expert in the field. Nor is this an occasion to sit back and bask in the glory of our predecessor’s success, great though it may be.
First and foremost, today is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the countless lay men and women, religious sisters and brothers, priests and people, who have worked with the bishops in this country for 200 years so that generations of children have had access to an excellent, well rounded education, forming minds, hearts, and souls.
The work that we do through our Catholic Schools is all about the children. Our work is necessary and vital if we are to assist Catholic parents in their task as the primary and principal educators of their children.
Parents are the ones who have the responsibility to create a family atmosphere motivated by love and respect for God and the human person. Our Catholic Schools are essential for providing a comprehensive personal and social education for our children.
While the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs, our Catholic Schools are places that provide pathways for our youth which will enable them for engagement in the community of the church and for mission in the world in which they live.
We should not underestimate either, the value that Catholic education has on building up the community of the faithful. Thousands of teachers, women and men all around Australia dedicate their lives to the education of children in Catholic Schools.
The pursuit of knowledge is an important dimension of Catholic Schools. Forming teachers who can give youth an authentic education is imperative. Our teachers and formators in Catholic Schools are called not only to develop with special care the intellectual ability of our youth, but also to guide them to form the ability to judge rightly.
Catholic Schools teachers are entrusted to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations, to foster a sense of values, to accompany others by witnessing to the use of faith and reason in their own lives, and to demonstrate that teaching is a vocation, not merely a form of employment. (cf. Gravissimum educationis, 5)
The model par excellence for the vocation of teacher is illustrated for us in the letter of Saint James, that we have heard in today’s Mass. The author calls forth those who are intelligent and knowing from the community and implores that they demonstrate those gifts by good conduct, wisdom, and humility. (cf. James 3:13) Saint James concludes that all that is accomplished through the gift of wisdom, will bear fruit in holiness.
My sisters and brothers, we must recognise that our Catholic School community depends upon the vitality and curiosity of our young people; the fidelity and dedication of our parents; the wisdom and excellence of our teachers; and the service and leadership of our clergy. Catholic Education is the work and mission of the community of the Church.
On this feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, it is appropriate that we also entrust the care of our Catholic Schools to the Blessed Mother.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus has been venerated under the title of Help of Christians in Australia since 1821, the year in which those 31 students began their Catholic education in that first Catholic School.
Through her intercession and care, may our Catholic Schools be communities of authentic, professional Catholic education. May our young people be inspired in heart and mind to know Jesus Christ, to love learning, and to use their talents
to be the very best they can be.
Mary, Help of Christians patroness of Australia – pray for us.