There were Catholic schools in what is now the Diocese of Rockhampton before the Diocese was formed. The first Catholic school was opened in Rockhampton in 1863 by the first Parish Priest, Father Charles Murlay and and Miss Bridget Mary Ennis. The infants’ and girls’ school opened in Alma Street Rockhampton and the boys’ school in West Street in 1868. Faint traces survive suggesting that there may have been small lay schools in other centres as well.
There were two lay schools in Mackay by 1869 and it seems one in Gladstone by 1871. The Sisters of St Joseph came to Mackay in 1872 at the invitation of legendary French Priest Father Pierre Marie Bucas and pioneer Irish Sugar Planter TH Fitzgerald. The Sisters were active in opening numerous schools, Copperfield 1873, Gladstone 1874, and Bundaberg 1876.
The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Rockhampton in 1873 and took responsibility for the infants’ and girls’ school which became known as St Patrick’s and in 1880 a second group of Sisters arrived in Mackay. In 1882 the Diocese of Brisbane was divided into two, with the new Diocese of Rockhampton now coming into place.
The story of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Rockhampton is one of courage, sacrifice, struggle and vision; a story of commitment and above all of faith and trust in a provident God. Scanning the archival records we read in awe of how priests, religious, parents and lay educators battled tirelessly in some of the most difficult conditions and often against all the odds to provide children of successive generations with an opportunity to acquire knowledge of the world and to be always mindful of the call of Jesus and the Mission of the wider Church.
The Diocesan Catholic Education Office opened in 1966 and was the first Catholic Education Office in Queensland. Prior to this various priests had toured the Diocese as Inspectors of Religious Education in schools. The Rev Dr Cecil Ballard was appointed as the First Director 1966 – 1975. After Dr Ballard’s death in 1975, Rev Dr Kevin Castles was appointed as the Second Director 1975 – 1988. When Dr Castles retired from the position Mr Joe McCorley was appointed as the Third Director of Catholic Education for the Rockhampton Diocese from 1988 – 2001. Mr McCorley accepted the position of Executive Director for Queensland Catholic Education Commission in early 2001 and in July of that same year Miss Leesa Jeffcoat was appointed the Fourth and Current Director for Catholic Education in the Rockhampton Diocese.
In 2013 Catholic Education celebrated 150 years of Catholic schools in the Diocese and another exciting chapter in the long history of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Rockhampton has since been written with St Brigid’s Catholic Primary School, Emerald opening in 2014 and St Brendan’s Catholic Primary School opening in the Northern Beaches area of Mackay in 2015.
From those humble beginnings back in 1863, 31 primary schools, 8 colleges as well as Kindergartens and Pre prep facilities in various centres across the Diocese now provide educational opportunities based on a strong Catholic ethos to families from Bundaberg to Mackay and west to Longreach. Gospel based education is provided to over 16 000 students from Kindergarten to Year 12, encouraging student development not only academically, but also spiritually, socially, emotionally and physically to become considerate and contributing members of society.
From humble beginnings to the vibrant and successful education facilities we see today. The story of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Rockhampton continues to be written as we continue to ’honour the past, enrich the present, shape the future and find meaning for life.’