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Heart of Catholic education revealed


By John Browning, Rockhampton Diocesan Education Office, $30 (plus $7 postage and handling)

Reviewed by Fr T.P. Boland

THIS handsomely produced volume has a handsome story to tell.

It explains the meaning of Catholic education in a century and a half of Queensland history.

It focuses on central Queensland, the Diocese of Rockhampton in its various formations.

Queensland history has developed in various phases, and this history describes the Catholic Church’s reaction to those phases. It makes clear that Church life – especially in its schools – is not passed in isolation.

The Church is integrally part of the society it serves, and the schools served the colony/state, its cities, towns and districts.

The Rockhampton story – told expertly here – has its own features, but it is the story of Australian Catholic education.

The book is divided into periods of episcopates in which the developments appeared – the pioneering time of the single diocese of James Quinn (1859-81), and the administration of the eight bishops who followed, up to the death of Bernard Wallace 1990.

Such a division corresponds to the principal archival sources, but it also roughly corresponds to the social and political developments of the times.

In the span of time under discussion the Catholic system has gone through a complete circle, from mainly lay-run to almost entirely religious and back to lay-run schools.

This history may help those uneasy about the changes to see the object of the school has remained constant in all phases, no matter how superficially different the system may appear.

It is made clear that the Church’s objective has always been to offer a complete alternative to the secular system.

This meant that Catholic Schools must offer the same advantages as the public schools – at least at the same level.

It means that the Church must endeavour to offer these advantages not just to the cities but to the remote areas as well.

The meaning of the struggle for these objectives is determined by the withdrawal of government funds in 1880 and the piecemeal return to the support from the 1960s.

Thanks to wise leadership Queensland adapted to this strained relationship with the government and the general community comparatively well, but the system was maintained only at the cost of immense sacrifice.

Statistical evidence of this for laity and religious is presented in several apposite schemas of building costs and fees and staffs.

The time and energies of bishops were under constant strain, and this was even more evident in parishes.

Church policy saw the parish as the nucleus of the system. The statistics quoted show how Rockhampton, despite demographic and geographic difficulties, effectively met the demands of the policy.

The geographic difficulties were apparently insuperable.

A few coastal cities were well supplied, and it might have been tempting to rest on their achievement, but most of the diocese was strung along the roads and the railways in small towns.

Around them were the vast, sparsely populated districts of stations and farms. Nuns and brothers established large boarding schools on the coast, but a less noticeable service in the western towns is revealed in the statistical charts. May of the country convents supported sizeable boarding schools.

These put the feelers of Catholic education out into the empty areas of the bush.

In 1927, Bishop Shiel set up a correspondence school, which sent the feelers further into the empty areas.

There were still Catholic children to be reached, those who by choice or necessity attended the innumerable State schools in most parishes.

Clergy life was dominated by travel to visit little schools in the bush.

As catechetics became more scientific, specialists were necessary. The Vincentian Fathers started a motor mission in 1949.

Catholic schools are a system, and a system needs organisation. This began in the pioneering times with the appointment of diocesan school inspectors, but as the system became more complex in secondary as well as primary departments, a central office was necessary.

There were two changes the growing system needed above all, a co-ordinating office and a financial office.

Dr Cecil Barnard and Mr Dudley Denning set them up, working very closely with the bishop.

The spiritual renewal and the dynamism of the Second Vatican Council and the national organisation of Catholic education generated more needs and new approaches to Catholic schools and Catholics in State schools.

The Catholic education office expanded to meet those needs.

Both before and after the beginning of state and commonwealth funding, systematic financing and planned expansion and co-ordination were necessary. When this governmental financing began, it was met with another crisis.

The numbers of nuns and brothers fell off just as more were needed.

With external funding the diocese could afford to pay the salaries of lay teachers.

The statistical charts show how the rapid and comprehensive change to lay-run schools took place.

The author details the practical problems that arose and how they were met.

All this development would have been impossible without vital leadership at all levels.

The author briefly gives us pen pictures of priests, religious, directors, teachers who kept the system afloat in all eras.

As well, the text is well supplied with photographs of schools, teachers, pupils and activities.

These, in themselves, make the ongoing story of Catholic education in Rockhampton. There are several appendices that, in their own way, tell this great story.

To order this book write to Rockhampton Catholic Education, PO Box 524, Rockhampton, Qld 4700.

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