OBITUARY: Leader recognised for significant contributions to Catholic Education

06 Apr 2021

By Amanda Murthy

Dr Richard Sweeney. Photo: Supplied.
Dr Richard Sweeney. Photo: Supplied.

A gentleman, scholar, educator, researcher, administrator, loyal friend, loved family member. The life of the late Dr Richard Vincent McSweeney BA, Dip Ed, MA (Hons), Cert Soc Sc, PhD who passed away on 31 December 2020, will go down in history as a man who was largely dedicated to the Catholic Church, to Catholic Education and to helping others.

The late Dr Richard Mc Sweeney was a band boy in his younger years, here conducting the “Alexander’s Rag-time Band” at St Columban’s Christian Brothers school in Brisbane back in 1940. Photo: Supplied.

Born on 2 August 1925, in Caboolture, Queensland, Richard was attended the De La Salle Brothers College in Roma, Queensland and St Columban’s Christian Brothers College in Brisbane.

Around 1938, the McSweeney family, by then with four children – Richard, Margaret, John and Irene, moved to Brisbane.

Dr McSweeney would leave home at the age of 16 in 1942 for Strathfield, Sydney, in preparation for entering the Congregation of Christian Brothers.

The late Dr Richard Mc Sweeney seen during his Christian Brothers training in Sydney in 1943. Photo: Supplied.

On 11 January 1955, Dr McSweeney’s mother, Irene, passed away at the age of 51.

After leaving the Christian Brothers, Dr McSweeney married Margaret Kennedy in 1967.

They lived in Queensland where Richard completed his PhD in 1971 – while teaching and lecturing at University of Queensland.

From February 1972, a then 46-year old Richard stepped into the role of Chief Executive Officer, Director of Research and Planning of the newly formed Catholic Education Office Western Australia.

As Secretary of the Catholic Education of Commission WA (CEC), Richard attended all meetings of the CEC and was its Executive Officer.

He worked on a variety of tasks including developing a system of governance for aboriginal peoples, managing funds for disadvantaged schools, managing migrant schools, acquiring land, building schools and staff recruitment.

Richard retired from his role at the Catholic Education Office in December 1987, the year his first wife, Margaret passed away.

A year later, he married Norma Muller. Following the death of Norma in 1996, Richard lived alone (with a faithful dog as companion) in Ballajura for nearly 20 years.

The late Dr Richard Mc Sweeney stands between his deceased second wife, Norma Muller (left) and sister Irene (Sister Veronica) in 1988. Photo: Supplied.

From 11 January 2016, he became a resident of Bethanie aged care, Subiaco.

Dr McSweeney’s successor, Dr Peter Tannock, listed some of bodies on which Dr McSweeney served during those early years:

  • National CEC, 1975 to 1980.
  • National Association of English Teachers, 1976.
  • National Curriculum Development Centre Council, 1977 to 1981.
  • National Innovations Committee of the Schools Commission, 1978.
  • Ex-officio member of the governing body of the CEC of WA, 1972 to 1985.
  • State Innovations Panel, 1975 to 1978, to develop, coordinate and direct the innovations program of the Schools Commission for WA.
  • WA Teacher Education Authority, 1975-1978, appointed by the Minister to represent CEWA.
  • Master of Education Program Committee for Murdoch University from 1982.
  • Teacher Education Workparty, WA Post-Secondary Education Commission, 1981
  • WA College of Advanced Education Advisory Panel, 1983.

Foundation member from 1983 of the State Education Advisory Committee established by the Minister for Education to advise him on matters of consequence.

Membership of professional organisations included

  • WA Institute for Educational Research
  • The Australian College of Education
  • WA Institute of Educational Administration
  • Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand
  • Slow Learning Children’s Association
  • WA Council of Social Service
  • Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science.