On Monday, 24th of May 2021, Bishop Michael Morrissey was the principal Celebrant at the National Mass for the Bicentenary of Catholic Education celebrated in St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Geraldton.

Concelebrating the Mass with the Bishop was Cathedral Administrator, Bernard Balaraj, Fr Robert O’Bryan, Mullewa Parish Priest, Fr Larry Rodillas, Northampton Parish Priest and Fr Dominic Hoang, Chaplain to Nagle Catholic College. Nearly two hundred staff and students representing the seven Catholic Education WA Schools located in the southern part of the diocese attended the celebration.

Schools present from Geraldton included St Francis Xavier Primary, St John’s Primary and St Lawrence’s Primary, with the secondary sector represented by Nagle Catholic College and the Geraldton Flexible Learning Centre. St Mary’s Primary Northampton, which is the Diocese’s longest operating school at 153 years and Our Lady of Mt Carmel from Mullewa (107 yrs) also made the journey into town to join the celebrations.

The Mass was preceded by a message from the Prime Minister, The Hon Scott Morrison MP, who spoke the pre-recorded message via four large screens strategically placed in the Cathedral.

In recognising the contribution of Catholic Education to Australian life, Mr Morrison said, “Two hundred years ago Fr John Terry answered the call to educate the youth of Parramatta. From that small beginning of 31 students began a great work that now spans 1,755 schools, 100,000 staff and 777,000 school students.” Mr Morrison continued, “Over 200 years, your schools, preschools, and now universities have transformed Australia through the millions of lives you have influenced.”  In sending his best wishes to everyone celebrating this bicentenary, Mr Morrison added the following advice, “Be kind, get involved in the community, and watch out, and be respectful to others.”

This was followed by, Acknowledgement of Country and welcome by Allen McMahon – CEWA Regional Officer from the Geraldton office.

In his homily Bishop Michael spoke of the history of the schools in the diocese, “The first educators of our children in the Diocese of Geraldton were laypeople, and this continues today….The Sisters and brothers followed those first teachers and went where others did not want to go!” Bishop listed many of the Religious Orders to pay tribute to, which includes the Dominican Sisters, the Sisters of St Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy, the Presentation Sisters, the Pallottines and the Christian Brothers.

From those Religious Orders that started Schools in the Diocese there we only two Presentation Sisters still in Geraldton, Sister Flora Ricupero, a former student at Stella Maris who returned to live in Geraldton as companion to Sister Evangelist [Barrett] now retired and living in Nazareth House. 

The bishop invited Sister Flora to stand and told the congregation that although Sister Flora had officially retired from active ministry, she was still working with the ladies in Geraldton offering them spiritual guidance and prayer time.                           

The Bishop further commented on the courage of the Presentation Sisters and the Community, especially the local Aboriginal Community at St Cecilia’s Primary in Port Hedland, noting they actually kept the school opened during WW2 while the Government school’s staff were sent home to Perth.

Another Religious Order who worked in the Primary sector of the Diocese were the Sisters of Nazareth, who are still working full time in the Diocese in the Aged Care sector.

Bishop Michael then acknowledged with gratitude the good work the lay staff working in our schools are doing, keeping the Catholic Ethos alive, adding that “a number of which were former students who returned to the Geraldton Diocese after their studies.”

Turning his attention to the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, Bishop Michael then spoke of how Catholic Australia remained faithful to Mary and were the first nation to choose her as Patroness under the title Help of Christians. “Mary is seen as a perfect intercessor. Both Mary and the Church bring us to, or unite us to, the one who does save: to Jesus and, as has been throughout the history of Catholic education, to have one clear focus as people of faith: to centre everything we do on our relationship with Jesus Christ”.

After the Mass, a vote of thanks was given by Ms Mandy Connor, the Director of Teaching and Learning from the CEWA Executive Team in Perth.

The Mass then concluded with a special hymn written for the Bicentenary Year which included the word’s “We will live, love, reach out to the world. Bringing joy, hope and peace in God’s name.” Quoted by Mandy in her vote of thanks.

Other words of the song were, “As your people, We Have Faith, Faith in the future.” Which in my humble opinion is a good start for the next 200 years.
Article and photos were submitted by Fr. Robert O'Bryan; Further photos provided by Jo Harris, CEWA RE Consultant