Today the Diocese of Lismore extends along the coastal strip of New South Wales, from Tweed Heads in the north to Laurieton in the south and west to the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. However in 1869 when Armidale Diocese was first established, the Northern part of our coastal strip formed part of that diocese also.
As the Armidale Diocese was so vast (roughly the size of England) most parts were served by only occasional visits from the clergy. It appears that the first priest to reside in the Richmond area was Father McGinty who arrived from Ipswich in 1853. The development of denominational schools in Australia during the nineteenth century can be identified as having three distinct phases a time of full government support, followed by part support and then government withdrawal of all support.
The parish of Lismore was established in 1878 with a young Irish priest appointed, Father Jeremiah Joseph Doyle who was to become the first Bishop of the Diocese of Lismore. The first Catholic school was established at South Grafton, by Mr Edward Tracey in 1860 and funded by a national system that issued grants, books and materials. In 1880, The Public Instruction Act which envisaged free, compulsory, secular education in Australia was adopted. By this time the future of Catholic schooling was under serious threat. The Catholic Church was now challenged to find a new way of operating its schools.
Father Doyle carried with him a dream to establish schools through the Diocese which would be staffed by religious communities. In 1883 the first religious order staffed school was established by the Brown Josephite Sisters at Swan Bay, a small settlement between Coraki and Woodburn on the Richmond River. With the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in 1884 and the Presentation Sisters from Ireland in 1886 schools continued to be established along the coastal strip. Over time, these pioneers were joined by other religious orders, the Ursulines, the Daughters of Charity, the Sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the Good Samaritans, the Lochinvar Josephites, the Christian Brothers, the Marist Brothers and the Marist Fathers.
Today the system of Catholic Schools operates under the direction of Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett DD, who is advised in policy matters by the Lismore Diocesan Catholic Schools Council. The Catholic Schools Office (CSO) operates as the secretariat to the Council and is responsible for implementation of policy and as a support, resource group to schools. In 2007, Bishop Jarrett approved for publication Catholic Education in the Diocese of Lismore, Foundational Beliefs and Practices, The Essential Framework.