Sometimes Catholic Bishops are not the bravest and most adventurous of people, but sometimes they are. Way back in the 1870s the Australian Bishops, none of them then born in Australia; some born in England, some born in Ireland, I think there was one born in Italy but together they took an extraordinary decision that involved an enormous risk. They decided to establish in this country a Catholic school system. We had had Catholic schools up until then but now the decision was to go our own way.
You see the difficulty was this: the government of the time was insisting upon education that was compulsory, free and secular for everyone. The bishops had no problem with ‘compulsory’, we actually believe deeply in education. The bishops were also very given to ‘free’. We like something for nothing. The problem for the bishops was ‘secular’ and the problem was that in their view, and it remains the view of the Catholic Church, that secular education understood in the narrow sense is too one dimensional to do justice to the human being. So Catholic education was and has always been committed to teaching all people but the whole person. This mattered so much that we decided to set up our own schools with not a cent, or a penny as it would have been then, from the government. It was made possible only by the extraordinary, indeed heroic generosity of the religious institutes, many of whom are represented here (at the CEW launch) today.
We and indeed Australia owe them an unpayable debt of gratitude, because you take the contribution of Catholic schools and these religious institutes out of the history of Australia and Australia itself would look a very different place. And what these schools in all their poverty insisted was that to educate the whole human being to live life in its fullness you needed to educate the body, certainly, the mind, absolutely, the heart , an emotional education, but there needed to be that other depth, a spiritual education. So body, mind, heart and soul. That’s not one dimensional education, that’s education in all its dimensions and education which therefore does justice to the human being as we really are. Not just a part of us but to the whole of us. That’s why Catholic schools from the beginning have been places, hearths if you will, genuinely human hearths, where the young have learned what it means to live life in its fullness. Not sort of stumbling through life living a half-life and wondering is that all there is. Hungers unsatisfied, deep thirsts unquenched.
I used to think when I was young that the easiest thing in the world was to be a human being with a heart of flesh and not a heart of stone. Now that I am old and wise, a product of Catholic education myself, I can in fact see that the art of being a real human being is subtle, difficult and the most important art of all. By that I mean the art of being a real human being in the full sense of that term. Now our schools exist to do many things; they impart vast amounts of knowledge, any number of skills and so on. Yet at the heart of everything that we do in our schools, and it is this that we celebrate in Catholic Education Week, is teach the art of being human. Fully human and fully alive! If our schools ever cease to do that then of course we close them, and throw the government into crisis therefore.
The fact that we have here the Premier, whose presence I very much appreciate, and the Minister for Education and the Shadow Minister, suggests the fundamental truth that Catholic schools are not just for the Catholic community. They never have been and they never will be. The fact that these Government dignitaries are here is a symbolic recognition that our schools are a vast and continuing source of social capital. In other words they make a most fundamental contribution to the common good of the entire society in Brisbane, Queensland and Australia.
So through this week we see the truth of what we celebrate. We look back across the story, and it is a remarkable story, of Catholic Education in this country. We also express from the depth of our heart the hope that our schools, whatever changes may come, will; never fail to places where the young are taught what it really means to live a genuinely human life in all its fullness.
In expressing that hope I have the greatest pleasure then in launching officially Catholic Education Week 2014.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
July 30, 2014