Date of Submission



The Catholic Diocese of Lismore is situated in the north-east coastal area of New South Wales, Australia. Catholic education in this diocese is based on the premise that school and parish work together in partnership for the personal and spiritual development of students. This premise relies on the assumption that teachers and clergy share a common view of the mission of Catholic schools. However, some recent studies highlight a lack of shared vision and indicate that teachers and clergy frequently have different expectations of what Catholic schools should be. This study examines similarities and differences in perceptions of the religious dimension of the mission of Catholic schools among the teachers and clergy in the Lismore Diocese. It identifies areas in which there is a significant lack of congruence. The study also explores the relationships and the quality of partnerships between teachers and clergy and identifies issues that are potential sources of tension. Furthermore, it considers implications for change. Self-completion questionnaires were given to the target population which consisted of all the full time teachers in Catholic schools and all the clergy on active duties in the Lismore Diocese at the beginning of 1997. Subsequent semi-structured interviews were conducted with all the clergy in the group and with thirty two teachers chosen through random sampling. Data yielded little evidence of sustained dialogue between teachers and clergy on issues related to the religious orientation of Catholic schools. Although there were some similarities in the teachers' and priests' perceptions of the religious dimension of the mission of Catholic schools, there was a considerable variation in their perceptions of priorities for these schools. Some of these differences could be linked to teachers' individual relationships with the institutional Catholic Church.;Teachers and priests were found to differ significantly in their understanding of the effectiveness of Catholic secondary schools. The study also found that ecclesiastical language used to describe the mission of Catholic schools is not always understood by teachers who work principally out of an educational context. Moreover, the study found that relationships between teachers and clergy were often hindered by poor communication, lack of clarity with regard to roles and expectations and very different perceptions of the structures and practice of authority. Many teachers believed that clergy were 'out of touch' and unrealistic in their expectations of schools and teachers. Many priests, on the other hand, considered that teachers had generally lost a sense of 'vocation' and religious motivation for their involvement in Catholic schools. Priests were generally more interested in forming partnerships with schools than were teachers in forming partnerships with parish communities. The perception that secondary school communities did not relate to parishes as well as their primary counterparts was widespread among clergy. This study makes several recommendations for the improvement of communication and dialogue between teachers and priests. It also recommends that similar research be carried out in dioceses where the parish-school authority structure differs. As part of this study the initial findings were presented to a significant gathering of clergy and school principals. The resulting discussion led to the proposal of strategies for improvement in communication and partnership. In this way the applied research in the study became an agency of change itself, working in the direction of a better culture of communication and collaboration regarding the religious mission of Catholic schools.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


256 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education


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