Notre Dame hosts lecture on history of Catholic schooling in Sydney

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 22-10-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



The University of Notre Dame Australia, together with the Centre for Faith, Ethics and Society, has welcomed Brother Kelvin Canavan to its Sydney Campus for a public lecture titled, "The Story of Catholic Schooling in Sydney."

Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Hayden Ramsay, greeted Brother Kelvin and all those present at the lecture, including representatives from Catholic schools and Catholic Education Offices, as well as staff and friends of Notre Dame.

"Brother Kelvin has done a tremendous amount to keep the story and the practice of Catholic education in this country alive," Professor Ramsay said.

"It is an honour for Notre Dame to host the lecture he is giving tonight."

Brother Kelvin's lecture spanned the phases of development of Catholic Schooling in Sydney, from 1820 to 2010. He said Notre Dame was a fitting place to tell the story of Catholic Education in Sydney, because the Broadway Site is steeped in the history of the Catholic Church.

"This spot has always been a place where the Catholic tribe has gathered," Brother Kelvin said.

"For 175 years, Catholics have been meeting here: parishioners of St Benedict's Church; Priests; Sisters of the Good Samaritan, who lived here for a hundred years; the Marist Brothers, who were here for 90 years; school students and now university students."

Brother Kelvin walked the audience through the challenges and achievements of Catholic schooling in Sydney over three phases. Firstly the initiative of lay men and women to begin a network of Catholic schools between 1820 and 1880; and following that, the development brought to Catholic schools between 1880 and 1970, when they were managed by religious Sisters, Brothers and Priests. Finally, Brother Kelvin explained the transformation of Catholic schools that began in the 1960s, with the re-emergence of lay teachers and leaders.

Of particular interest to the Notre Dame community was the school that was set up at the St Benedict's site in 1838. The school, in its 143 years of operation, educated children and young people who went on to achieve in all walks of life. The primary school educated Sir Norman Thomas Gilroy, who became the first Australian to be appointed Cardinal. Another of its students was Darcy Dugan, a bank robber and escape artist who, when he retired from crime, became a rehabilitation officer. Margaret Jones, a student of St Benedict's Girls in 1912, went on to study Medicine at Sydney University. At the time, female physicians were rare and Margaret required the assistance of the Catholic Church to find a hospital that would allow her to work as a doctor.

Brother Kelvin pointed out that the aim of Catholic schools was always to improve opportunities for young people and to help them escape the poverty cycle, an endeavour that proved to be successful quite early in their establishment. He emphasised that Catholic schools are unique in that they allow students to focus on their Catholic identity and form a worldview that is enriched by Catholic faith and values.

Particularly poignant was Brother Kelvin's discussion of government funding for Catholic schools, an issue affecting those institutions since their inception in Sydney in the 1880s and one which has recently been reignited by debate over the Gonski review. Having campaigned for over 40 years for government funding for Catholic schools, Brother Kelvin had a strong message to deliver to those now at the forefront of school administration.

"Never take government funding for granted," he said.

"Tonight, we have discussed the three phases of development of Catholic schools. The fourth phase is the future. For those of you working in Catholic schools and universities, the direction of the future is up to you," Brother Kelvin said.

Brother Kelvin Canavan provided the audience with a remarkable example of service. He joined the Sydney Catholic Education Office in 1968 as Inspector after eight years as a primary school teacher. Brother Kelvin subsequently served as Director of Primary Education and Deputy Director of Schools, before being appointed Executive Director of Schools in 1987, a position he held until 2009. Among the many positions Brother Kelvin has held, he was a member of the Board of Studies for nine years and a member of the NSW Catholic Education Commission for 29 years. In 2008, he was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws by The University of Notre Dame Australia and became a Visiting Professor in 2009. Notre Dame's newest teaching facility on the Sydney Campus was named Canavan Hall in recognition of Brother Kelvin's contribution to Catholic Education. He remains a Governor of the University and Chairman of the School of Education Advisory Board.

For further information please contact: Communications Officer, Elizabeth Fenech The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

T: 02 8204 4407 E: elizabeth.fenech@nd.edu.au W: www.nd.edu.au/