This month we look at the plan for Catholic Education in South Australia that Father Julian Tenison Woods had the task of implementing when he became the first Director General of Catholic Education in Australia.

In 1867 Bishop Laurence Sheil appointed Father Julian Tenison Woods as his Secretary and asked him to leave Penola and move to Adelaide. Once he was there, together, they devised a comprehensive plan for Catholic Education and communicated this at a public meeting held at St Francis Xavier’s Hall on Friday, 26 April 1867. [i]

Catholic Education was henceforth to be managed by the appointment of:

  • A Director General of Catholic Education, a new position in the diocese, who was to:
    – inspect and report on schools and regulate the mode of instruction to be given
    – submit names to the Bishop for appointment to Local Boards of Management
    – certify the fitness of teachers and their eligibility for appointment by the Central Council
    – visit and examine all the schools of the diocese, or delegate others to visit remote schools
    – report on sites for school buildings
    – approve all plans before they were passed on to the Central Council
    – visit all school buildings and approve them to be licensed as schools by the Central Council
    – be the head of all the details of the department of education in the diocese
    – be appointed by, and only removed by the Bishop


  • A Central Council, consisting of the Vicar General, the Director General, three clerical members and five lay members. The Bishop would be the ex-officio President.
    The duties of the Council were to:
    – frame general regulations for the distribution of money for educational purposes
    – determine the localities in which schools receiving aid would be maintained
    – frame general regulations for the inspection of schools, the examination and classification of teachers
    – determine the course of instruction to be adopted in the schools
    – fix, from time to time, the fees to be charged to parents of school children
    – do everything necessary to carry into effect the intentions of the Bishop to give to the children of the whole of his diocese a good religious training in the doctrines and practices of the Holy Catholic Church, with a sound secular instruction to fit them for their position in life and their social duties to their fellow-colonists in the land of their adoption
    – recommend to the Bishop, for appointment or removal such officers as shall be deemed requisite for carrying out the regulations
    – see that the moneys collected for the purposes of education be properly applied
    – meet monthly
    – appoint a Secretary
    – the Director General would be the Treasurer, but orders for payment would be made by the President, the Treasurer and one lay member of Council.


  • Local Boards of Management for each school, under local pastors. Their role was to:
    – have power over their respective schools as far as visitation and supervision, as well as the admission of poor children; but any alteration in the teachers’ methods of instruction or of the established regulations could only be made with the consent of the Central Council
    – superintend the collection of local funds for educational purposes, these being lodged with their Treasurer, who made payments only on the order of the Director General: the local pastor be the Treasurer and was also to be ex officio the President of every Local Board.
    – meet monthly, and appoint for the ensuing month one of their number to visit the schools with the local pasto
    – visit and examine the school every six months and report to the Central Council on the attendance, religious and secular instruction
    All school property was to be vested in Trustees, appointed by the Bishop and on one Sunday in every year throughout the diocese a sermon in aid of education was to be preached with all moneys derived therefrom were to go into the general fund at the disposal of the Central Council.

Father Julian was excited about this plan for Catholic Education. His appointment as Director General was an acknowledgment of his success—or was it enthusiasm when he witnessed how Mary had set up his school at Penola, because at the time of his appointment, in fact, Mary was the only one wearing a black dress. The Institute was still little more than a pipe dream. As Mary wrote to the Sisters 25 years later:

Little did either of us then dream what was to spring from so small of a beginning. Mary MacKillop, 25 March 1891

Although the implementation of this plan gave Father Julian much power, it also brought him much grief.  There is no doubt that it was ambitious, forward-looking and a source of inspiration for many Directors further along in the history of Catholic Education in Australia.

To read more about the implementation of this 1867 plan click here.

Carmel Jones rsj


[i] For a newspaper report of this meeting go to: