By Paul Gray
The former Director of Catholic Education in Western Australia, Therese Temby, has been appointed Chair of the National Catholic Education Commission.
Mrs Temby will succeed Victorian Monsignor Tom Doyle in what is one of the most important posts in Catholic education in Australia.
The announcement of Mrs Temby’s appointment was made at the conclusion of the May plenary meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
Mrs Temby, who has been a member of the National Catholic Education Commission for 16 years, was the Director of Catholic Education in WA from 1992 to 2003.
Mrs Temby told The Record that the Commission serves two important roles. One is providing a forum for leaders in Catholic education, from state Catholic Education Offices and the Catholic universities, to come together to discuss important issues.
The Commission’s other important role lies in the relationship between Catholic education and the Federal Government. Part of this involvement is in the “mechanics” of Government funding of Catholic schools.
She said the Commission has always had a “really strong relationship” with whichever party is in power in Canberra, and she believes and hopes this will continue.
Mrs Temby praised her predecessor as NCEC chair, Mons Doyle, saying he had been outstanding in his role as head of Catholic education in Victoria and as a member and chair of the national body. She particularly praised his “insight” and connections.
Mrs Temby says a challenge for the Commission under her chairmanship will be the “changing agenda” in the Church’s discussions with the Federal Government.
One area of change is the push towards a national curriculum for all schools, a trend which began under the Howard Liberal Government and is continuing under Labor.
The Record also asked Mrs Temby for comments on the broader challenges facing Catholic education.
While happy to talk about these in general terms, she emphasized that it is not the role of the National Catholic Education Commission to “direct” policy to the state Catholic Education Offices.
However she said two challenges facing Catholic schools are enrolments – “we want enrolments to grow,” she said – and “Catholic identity.”
Mrs Temby said Catholic schools need to be good schools, in the sense of providing first class treatment of all subjects and courses.
However she also said “Catholic values” should come through all of the courses taught in a Catholic school, so that whatever the subject might be, from biology to maths, Catholic values should be present.
The life of a Catholic school should also be imbued with a “Catholic way of thinking,” Mrs Temby said.
Asked if she is concerned about the level of churchgoing amongst Catholic school students, Mrs Temby said this problem is not just one of education, but of an increasingly secular society we live in.
She said churchgoing is falling off in all denominations and all churches. This says something about society and not just about schools.
However, Mrs Temby is encouraged by some of the activities students in Catholic schools are engaged in these days, such as social justice initiatives and programs to help the poor.
She says the outreach by Catholic schools and the support given to community works like soup kitchens are “fantastic.”
Kids in Catholic schools are giving a “real sense of serving their community,” she said. However she said it’s a shame there is not more Mass attendance among the general Catholic school population.
As well as directing Catholic Education in Western Australia for 11 years, Mrs Temby has a wide experience of school, including Government schools.
The chairman of the bishops’ Commission for Catholic Education, Bishop Gerard Holohan, said Mrs Temby’s wide experience which will “ground her leadership of Catholic education across Australia.”