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Forty years of innovation and still going strong: Catholic Institute of Western Australia marks milestone


The Catholic Institute of Western Australia staff members, Maureen Delaney, Liz Reid, Kerry Troost, Alan Wedd, Damian Doyle and Chris Hackett, are celebrating 40 years of providing Catholic tertiary studies to students in WA. Photo: Supplied

By Rachel Curry

Forty years after it began offering tertiary studies, the Catholic Institute of Western Australia remains the unsung hero of Catholic education in this state.

The institute was the first of its kind when it was founded by the Bishops of Western Australia in 1975, with the aim of providing much needed formation for Catholic school teachers.

Catholic Institute of Western Australia Director, Dr Chris Hackett, said the bishops took a unique approach to tackling the challenges of Catholic education at the time, including a teaching workforce that was increasingly comprised of laypeople.

“(The institute) was ahead of its time because the bishops at that stage were looking to the formation of teachers for Catholic schools when there were no Catholic universities or teachers colleges in WA,” Dr Hackett said.

“It took about 20 years prior to 1975 for the bishops and relevant institutions to come together and have some agreement about how they were going to proceed,” he said.

Founded shortly after the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia – another pioneering body – the institute has since enabled thousands of tertiary students to study Catholic education units as part of their courses at public universities.

Today it offers units at the University of Western Australia, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and Curtin University, at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level.

It has also carried our important work in a number of other areas, including providing in-service programs for religious education teachers, producing a series of reflection booklets on the Gospels and creating and expanding the Catholic Library of WA.

Dr Hackett said the institute had witnessed a number of changes in the Catholic education sector over the past four decades, most notably the arrival of The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle campus in 1989.

However, even with a Catholic university operating in Western Australia, the Institute continues to play an important role.

“There are many, many students, who, for a whole variety of different reasons, choose to go to public universities,” Dr Hackett said.

“Sometimes they’re in specialised courses that Notre Dame doesn’t provide, such as teaching home economics, music, or English as a Second Language, so we provide them with access to (Catholic education) units so they are not disadvantaged.

“It’s about working together with Notre Dame to complement what each of us do.”

While the Institute has concentrated primarily on the public universities in the past decade, Dr Hackett said it was now looking to re-discover its roots by providing additional faith formation opportunities.

In December, it will begin to offer non-university award Catholic units for postgraduate students who have been unable to access those units as part of their teaching degree.

Another exciting new development is the Galilee program, which will assist in the ongoing spiritual and faith formation of leaders and teachers in Catholic schools.

Dr Hackett said the two-year program will enable leaders and teachers to deepen the spiritual and faith capabilities of their whole school community, especially the students.

“What we are looking at is those people who are aspiring to leadership in the future. They are the people that we’re targeting: quite experienced teachers that have developed a variety of leadership skills, but recognise that when it comes to faith, they need to have the confidence to lead their community,” he said.

While the institute has only just clocked up 40 years, Dr Hackett said the staff were already looking towards the 50-year milestone.

He noted that the institute’s innovative approach was commended by the former head of the Vatican’s Congregation of Catholic Education, Cardinal Pio Laghi, in 1996, and they were looking to uphold their strong reputation into the future.

“The Catholic Institute has been a very successful organisation over a long period of time. It’s been an organisation that has responded to the need of schools for the formation of new teachers and leaders of the future,” he said.

“Now it’s broadening out its vision of supporting teachers, not only in their education, but in the formation and deepening of their faith, because many teachers today haven’t had that in their upbringing.”

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