RAY COLLINS: Celebrating 150 Years of a Diocese

In 1866 the first resident Bishop of Maitland arrived in the diocese, then covering a huge part of NSW. Bishop James Murray had come from Ireland and he brought with him a great tradition of education which he soon set about implanting in his diocese.  

Within a year Bishop Murray had brought members of the Dominican Order of Sisters to Australia to set up a school in Maitland. That school, St John the Baptist, still flourishes today and the Dominicans soon expanded their educational influence to other parts of the diocese including Waratah and as far afield as Tamworth.

The Dominicans were followed in 1875 with the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy at Singleton where their congregation was established.
The crisis that hit Catholic Education in 1879 with the removal of government funding from all schools except those administered by the NSW Government prompted the Australian Bishops to ask more Catholic Religious Orders to set up Catholic Schools and Murray was at the forefront of this commitment to Catholic schooling.

In 1883 he introduced the Patrician Brothers, the Brigidine Sisters and the Sisters of St Joseph to the diocese. The Patrician Brothers took on the school at Campbell’s Hill, The Brigidines were to be based in Coonamble and the Josephites at Lochinvar. In 1898 the Marists began their first school at Tighes Hill and were followed over time by the Daughters of Charity in the 1920s. The Charities or more commonly known to the lay people as the “Aeroplane Nuns” staffed The Murray Dwyer Orphanage at Mayfield and a school at Mayfield West.
The history of the Religious Orders in the Diocese of Maitland and the growth of the system of schools is a very rich one. Hundreds of thousands of young people have been educated through these schools and have gone on to make a considerable contribution to Australian society, particularly in church and civil societies.

This week the Diocesan education community will gather at the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Tuesday evening for its annual Called to Serve Mass at which our Bishop, William Wright, will commission the staff of the schools, the Catholic Schools Office and the members of the Catholic Schools Council for their important work in the diocese.

A special feature of the Mass will be the recognition of the great service to Catholic education provided by the Religious Orders and we will acknowledge, in particular, the long involvement of the Dominican, Mercy, Josephite and Marist Orders in our schools. The Dominicans, Josephites and Marists still maintain a presence in the school system.

All staff are invited to this annual and very special celebration where we also acknowledge the present day staff through the awarding of plaques to those who have served 25 years in Catholic Education and the Monsignor Coolahan Awards for Excellence which acknowledge those who have demonstrated excellence in leadership, teaching, innovation, support services and in community life.

It will be a fitting part of the celebrations of the diocese in its 150th year.

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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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