Much of the early history of CCD in the diocese was never recorded. Attendance books at state schools indicate that priests, and later mothers of children attending these schools, went into the small schools to provide religious instruction. The Josephite Sisters of the Catholic Diocese of Bathurst also corrected Religion by Letter of children unable to attend a Catholic school, and it is assumed the Sisters of Mercy and other teaching Sisters would have done likewise.
In the Diocese, numerous small Catholic schools were staffed by religious sisters during the period from the 1920’s to the late 1960’s, and hence during these years, only children in very isolated areas did not have access to a Catholic school. Until Vatican II (1962-1965), official church policy was that Catholic students were not to be sent to state schools except in the case of necessity. As a result, there was a general reluctance on the part of clergy or parents to become involved in the religious education of children attending such schools. With the implementation of the Wyndham scheme in NSW (early 1960’s), in 1963 and 1964 several small Catholic secondary schools in the Diocese were closed. This meant that many secondary students in small rural centres had no opportunity for religious education beyond Year 6.
In 1974, two Perthville Josephite Sisters began to staff a motor mission established under Bishop ARE Thomas to provide religious education to Catholic students in those centres that had lost their small secondary schools. The first Motor Mission Sisters were based in Dunedoo and served Dunedoo, Mendooran, Coolah and Gulgong. In the early 1980’s, the Motor Mission was extended to include Kandos and Rylstone, and by the mid-1980’s when the Motor Mission Sisters were based in Gulgong, they also visited nearby Goolma. This Motor Mission was terminated when four Josephite Sisters were entrusted with the task of coordinating the ministry to state school students throughout the Diocese.
In 1975, the NSW government began a ministerial inquiry into the place of Religious Education in Government Schools. The Rawlinson Report, published in 1980, challenged the churches to take more seriously their role in providing quality religious education in government schools. It was about this time that more concentrated efforts were made to provide Religious Education for Catholic students in government schools in the Diocese of Bathurst. Old attendance books for Scripture teachers indicate that during the 1960’s and 1970’s priests and lay catechists worked in some of the small state schools where there had never been a Catholic school. I can first remember encountering lay people going into state schools in larger centres during the period 1973 ~ 1979. Records indicate that the first available Diocesan-wide census of Catholic students attending state schools is dated 1979.
To help prepare catechists for their work in the schools, the Sisters of St. Joseph made available, at the beginning of 1981, a correspondence course for catechists working in state schools. Twenty Josephite Sisters took on the task of being tutors for the large numbers who enrolled in the course. Correspondence from 1981 indicates that in the Diocese at this time there existed a Commission for CCD and that there were an estimated 7,460 Catholic students in the state schools of the Diocese. In addition to the Correspondence Course for Catechists, syllabuses for each year, kindergarten to Year 6, were drawn up under the guidance of the Diocesan Religious Education Coordinator and lesson sheets were made available for each teacher. SRE Teachers were also assisted by experienced religious education teachers from the teaching congregations working within the Diocese at the time.
In 1975-1986, some in-service for catechists was provided under the direction of the Religious Education Coordinator of the Diocesan Catholic Education Office. Teaching sisters continued to assist SRE Teachers in informal ways with teaching strategies and teaching resources.
During 1984-85, there was a diocesan-wide survey of priests and catechists carried out by a committee of Sisters of St. Joseph – Srs Joan Farrell, Robyn McNamara and Maureen Schiemer. This committee reported its findings to Bishop Dougherty and late in 1986, a team of four sisters was set up to oversee the work of CCD in the Diocese. Members of this team were Sisters Clare Hopper, Mary Devoy, Alice Mary Sullivan and Maureen Schiemer. This group was given the task of overseeing the work of the catechists and later assumed responsibility for the administration of the Correspondence Course for Catechists.
In 1987, the Directors of CCD in each diocese of NSW met and formed a group for mutual support and encouragement in this ministry. During its first years, this state group provided invaluable information regarding the Department of School Education expectations of SRE teachers. The formation of this group greatly assisted in providing a more professional approach to SRE and has certainly assisted diocesan personnel in their ministry. This body is now known as CCRESS (Catholic Conference for Religious Education in State Schools).
From 1989-2000 an annual Diocesan Catechist Day was held to encourage catechists of the diocese. By 2000 it became obvious that changed circumstances had caused this event to be no longer feasible to hold and so was allowed to lapse.
Since 1994, Catechist Sunday has been observed each year in each of the parishes of the diocese. The purpose of this day is to focus the attention of the local Catholic community on the importance of this ministry. Since 1993 a catechist newsletter has been published each term to provide information, support and encouragement to SRE teachers. In 1993, a regional Committee affiliated with ICCOREIS NSW was set up in the central west of NSW. This body was known as the Western region inter-church Committee on SRE, and organised regular face–to-face in-service education for SRE teachers of all religious denominations. Members of the Coordinating team are active in assisting this inter-church committee. The Correspondence Course for Catechists underwent a major update and a Unit 2 course was also developed.
In 2001 Mrs Rosemary Doherty was appointed to the team when Srs Therese Patterson and Kath English were no longer able to remain on the team. Rosemary worked from Dubbo and is responsible for parishes in that area of the diocese. In 2003, Mrs Vicki Mair, Bathurst was appointed to the team and assists in the southern end of the Diocese. Miss Helen Ryan was appointed to replace Rosemary at the beginning of 2006.
Sr Maureen Schiemer retired as Director of CCD in the Diocese at the end of 2007 and handed the role over to Helen Ryan, who passionately carried out the coordinator’s role until her retirement in July 2017. The role is now held by Vicki Mair (Southern) and Jacinta Thatcher (Northern).