Honour for Catholic education leader

Monday, 11 May 2009

5 May 2009: Catholic education leader James Terence Synan was awarded Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) highest honour this week, Doctor of the University, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Catholic education in Victoria as a whole, and in particular his own Diocese of Sale.

photo: James Terence Synan

‘Terry’ Synan has been director of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Sale, foundation member of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria and former chairman of the Victorian Catholic Schools’ Association.

He was instrumental in the church-government committees and decisions that followed the election of Gough Whitlam’s government in 1972, which included electoral approval for “needs-based” federal education funding.

He was also crucial in helping set up the necessary structures for Catholic education which could quickly co-operate in the numerous programs enacted, with what was the first large-scale government money for 100 years.

Born during the Depression on a farm at Fish Creek, in Southern Gippsland, Terry received a secondary teachers’ scholarship from the Victorian Government after leaving school – on the provision that as a graduate he would teach for three years with the State Education Department.

He studied Commerce at the University of Melbourne– at the time of such lively students as Barry Humphries and Barry Jones – and following graduation taught for 15 years in the high schools of Wangaratta, Morwell, Moe and Yallourn.

When the Sale Catholic Education Office was established in 1973, Terry was appointed Administrative Director. Soon after, Whitlam’s government announced the programs for “needs-based educational funding” – programs for which the multitude of different Catholic schools were vitally interested in applying for.

However it was clear that government agencies were not going to negotiate policy and funding with such a large number of educational institutions. One representative organisation was needed to speak on their behalf, and thus The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria was founded in 1973, with Terry as one of its founding members.

Following the formation of the Catholic Education Office and the security of significant funding, many years were spent planning for the schools of Gippsland - rationalisation and amalgamations of the old, and building of the new.
Of the seven current secondary Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sale, four were formed from amalgamations of older schools, and three were newly built in the last 30 years.

For his outstanding career, Terry has received many honours over the years – including a papal knighthood in the order of St Sylvester in 1995.

Vice-Chancellor of ACU, Professor Greg Craven, said Terry Synan was instrumental in forming the new face of Catholic education in Australia.

“With this structure each diocese has a Catholic Education Office, which co-ordinates previously different individual schools and orders, represents them in dealings with state and federal governments, and makes possible reliable financing and planning,” he said.

“Terry helped set the solid future paths of Catholic schools, not only in his Diocese of Sale, but throughout Victoria, and was part of a national team that made Catholic education a continuing, integral and strong part of Australian society.”