200 Years of Catholic Schools amongst the persecuted

On Monday May 24, we will celebrate 200 years of Catholic schools in Australia. Most schools will celebrate with a mass. Yet, in this moment, do we remember the first 40 years of British settlement (From 1788 to 1820), where the Catholic church, many other churches, religions and Aboriginal customs were outlawed. Thus, many religions, and many churches began in Australia like the early Christian church, with oppression. Where the government of the day sought to stop their practise. With many lay people hidden in homes continuing religious traditions. Do we celebrate with the 200 years anniversary the many people who risked their lives for their religious faiths and traditions? This causes us to think, where in the world today are religious groups oppressed? As Catholics and people of religion, are we not called to identify and help the oppressed groups?

Catholics celebrate 200 years of schools where many nuns, brothers, priests and lay people sacrificed much to swim against a tide of anti-Catholic and more recently, anti-religious sentiment. We do give thanks to God for those who have made these sacrifices.

But tainted by this goodness, is the Royal Commission into the Sexual Abuse of Children (2013 to 2017). Sadly, thousands of perpetrators of children were identified. Not all, but, many of whom belonged to Catholic schools. Many people suffering abuse no longer see the Catholic schools as a beacon of hope, but as an instrument that hurt the very people they were called to protect. What hope exists are people like Grace Tame, Australian of the year, a sexual abuse survivor, who have been willing to speak up about sexual abuse and tackle the issue head on. As we celebrate 200 years, let us recognise these people. Abuse victims and courageous survivors calling for justice.

Catholic schools can be a beacon of hope. Not from larger and larger enrolment numbers motivated by accounting practises which seek to improve the financial bottle line. But in small individuals who are linked to small groups of people who have at the heart the dignity and value of each person. Modelled by the example of Jesus Christ who sought to help those who are oppressed. After all, that is why Catholic schools were initially set up in 1821. Let us ask ourselves the question, who are oppressed, and seek to make a difference as Catholic schools.

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22 May 2021

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For more information on Grace Tame, See her acceptance speech from January 2021

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