RAY COLLINS: St Patrick and St Joseph - A message from Ireland

The celebration in the last week of the feast-days of St Patrick and St Joseph have always been rather special days for me. Patrick is my second name and I chose Joseph as my Confirmation name and we named our first born Joseph as well.

For Catholic Education in our diocese these two days also have great significance as they reflect, firstly, the impact of the Irish Religious Orders in establishing Catholic schools in the diocese and secondly, the establishment of the Sisters of St Joseph at Lochinvar, our own diocesan order.

This week I am in Ireland and have spent the last two days in Dublin where Catherine McAuley established the Sisters of Mercy, well known to us through the establishment of this order in Singleton in 1875. We will travel today to County Kildare where in 1807 Bishop Daniel Delaney founded the Brigidine Sisters and the Patrician Brothers both of whom provided catholic education in the then Diocese of Maitland.

The Dominican Sisters from Ireland were the first Religious Order to establish schools in our diocese, arriving from Dublin in 1867, with one of their earliest schools the school for Hearing Impairment (Deaf School at Waratah) still operating as the St Dominic's Centre at Mayfield.

As the Irish continue to celebrate St Patrick's Day here (I don't know how long it goes for) and in a time when austerity measures are being imposed to great opposition, I wonder if they reflect for even a few minutes on their impact on Catholic Education in Australia.

To the Dominican Sisters and the Sisters of mercy who still support the work of the Church in our diocese I trust that they had an enjoyable St Patrick's Day as they celebrate their Irish heritage.

Similarly we wish the Sisters of St Joseph a very happy Feast-day last Thursday. The commitment of the Sisters of St Joseph to Catholic Education in our Diocese is a rich one. Founded by Fr Julian Tenison Woods and St Mary of the Cross MacKillop in South Australia in 1867, a community was established in Lochinvar in 1883 they had a special charism for educating the poor in the distant reaches of the diocese and the commitment of the Sisters of St Joseph is still very evident in our diocese today.

My father received his Primary education with the Sisters at Lochinvar and always reminded his sons of the quality of his education and his appreciation of the work of the Josephites.

Whilst our schools are largely staffed by lay teachers today, it is important that we recall our heritage and the commitment of the religious orders, including the Marist Brothers, the Sisters of Charity, the Daughters of Charity and others who ensured the continuation of Catholic Education in a time in the history of our country where there was significant opposition to these schools.

To all who served Catholic education in this way we extend our ongoing gratitude.

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Ray Collins

Ray Collins is the Director of Schools within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He is an authority on education issues.

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