Peace in Jesus
At least two Catholic schools were established in the early years of the nineteenth century but neither survived very long, and it was not until after the arrival of Therry and Connolly in 1820 that significant development took place. By 1833, there were about ten Catholic schools in the country. From this time until the end of the 1860s, Catholic schools received some government assistance under a variety of schemes, but campaigns for 'free, secular and compulsory' education had begun in the 1850s and it became increasingly clear that Catholic schools would not be able to rely on government aid for much longer. Between 1872 and 1893, every State passed an Education Act removing state aid to Church schools. This was a turning point for Catholic schools and, indeed, for the Catholic community in Australia. Bishops and people decided to persevere with the Catholic system. With no money to pay teachers, the bishops appealed to religious orders in Ireland and other European countries, and soon religious sisters and brothers were responding to the crisis.
The growth of religious orders
There were already a few religious orders in Australia: as well as the Sisters of Charity, there were also, among others, the Good Samaritan Sisters, founded by Polding in 1857, and the Sisters of St Joseph, founded in 1866 by Fr Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop, now recognised as Australia's first saint. By 1871, these 'Josephites' were running thirty-five schools in the Adelaide diocese. By 1880, there were a total of 815 sisters from all orders teaching in schools; by 1910 the number exceeded 5000. The sisters not only set up schools in the cities but also established little parish schools all over Australia, providing a Catholic education for the children of the bush. Their efforts, with almost no money and in the face of considerable hardship, were nothing short of heroic. The largest of the male teaching orders, the Christian Brothers, had 115 brothers teaching in thirty schools by 1900. Under the influence of the religious orders, Catholic schools not only survived but flourished; the sisters and brothers were to be the mainstay of the schools for a hundred years.
Catholics in the post-war era
The 1950s were a boom time for Australian Catholics. Numbers grew rapidly, increasing the proportion of Catholics in the Australian population . Many parishes were established in the new suburbs of the major cities and the number of priests, sisters and brothers continued to expand. The impact of all the effort expended on education was felt as Catholics made noticeable advances in socio-economic status, drawing near to the Australian population as a whole in educational attainment and prosperity. There was a high level of attendance at Mass and other devotional ceremonies, and many Catholics belonged to parish sodalities such as the Sacred Heart Sodality (for women) and the Holy Name Society (for men; it was reputed to have 100 000 members at one stage). At home, large numbers of families recited the Rosary every night or at least once a week, and in the community Catholics stood out because of practices like never eating meat on Fridays. The Catholic community had grown to be what the Irish bishops of the nineteenth century had worked for and dreamed of: a thriving Church based on the Irish model.
Yet in just a few years all this would change, partly in consequence of the enormous social change that Australia underwent in the 1960s and 1970s. One element of this change was the huge post-war influx of non-English-speaking immigrants, including more than a million Catholics from Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Hungary and numerous other places. When it came to religion, these people had different aspirations, expectations, needs and patterns of participation from those of Catholics of the Irish mould. They needed to be able to attend Mass in their own languages and they needed schools for their children, and the Church responded in practical ways, obtaining priests from the main countries of origin of the immigrants and building new schools and churches at a phenomenal rate.
to be continued...