There are few areas in the Catholic Church in Australia that have been as significant in the growth of Catholicism  in the Country or have had such resources committed to them as the Australian Catholic Education Systems. Ranging from Kindergarten through Primary to Secondary and even Tertiary levels, Catholic Education has achieved importance far beyond the Church's spiritual concerns. It is truly a national asset.

The measure of its present effectiveness must be made against its fundamental purpose. There is no doubt that in setting up Catholic Schools and other educational institutions the main purpose of the Catholic Bishops was not to create a civic asset, though that was an inevitable by-product of their intention.

The Bishops of Australian Dioceses became engaged in the business of Education to ensure that Catholic children were properly educated in the Faith in a way that would develop them as well-rounded Catholic citizens of fledgling Nation then a-forming. Later still, successive Governments for a time sought to attack the Church by insisting on a secular character for universal education in Australia.But the purpose of Catholic Education in Australia remained the same : put simply - the development of citizens properly educated in and practising their Catholic Faith. 

By that measure one might say that "we have a problem".

For a long time,that was not the case. Indeed the generations of young Catholics that went off to  World War I and later World War II were very well educated in their Faith and particularly the latter group were practising their Faith at a very high level - so much so that weekly Mass attendance was in the vicinity of 65% and that was maintained even after the War. Vocations to the Priesthood and to the Religious Life were at very high levels and it was all that the Church could do to keep up with the demand for new Church and School and other buildings.The text used in Religious Education in most Catholic Schools up to High School Level for that latter generation was " Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine" by Archbishop Michael Sheehan. When it was recently re-published Catholic Educators claimed it was FAR too advanced for their students who could not handle it.

What has gone wrong?

And what about the current performance of the "product" being delivered from our Catholic Education systems? What has happened to Mass attendance from that 65% level of pre-War Australia?According to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference the figure in 2008 was 13.8%.Between  1996 and 2006 the percentage of the congregations made up of people up to 19 years of age declined from 24.18% to 19.87%. Now, to be completely honest, demographic evolution has an influence in that trend.But, sadly it does not really mitigate the adverse trend we see, but rather makes it worse. For in the same period the percentage of the population in that age category had slightly increased, whilst the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference figures show that the proportion of our mass attending Catholics in that age category declined from approx. 13% to a fraction above 10% between 1996 and 2006.

Plainly there is a parallel between Australian Catholic Education and the condition of affairs in the State of Denmark ( Hamlet 1.4.90).

We shall endeavour to return to this vital subject in increasing detail in subsequent Posts.Readers might care to read the not unrelated recent post " Infestation" here :  .


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