History of the Catholic Enquiry Centre

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The idea of the Catholic Enquiry Centre was initiated by the late Bishop A J Tynan of Rockhampton, Qld. He envisioned it as an adult faith education venture for the remote area of QLD, but soon realised that such a limited idea was not financially viable. When he heard of the UK venture in faith outreach for people who were not Catholic, he proposed at the 1957 meeting of the Australian Conference of Bishops that such a venture be a national concern.

In 1958 Fr Michael O'Connor, originator and founder of the English CEC, came to Australia to speak to the Bishops. He advised them that the only way to get the venture started was to appoint a person for this specific work. Thus the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Australia was modelled on the Centre based in England. Fr Thomas White, of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, was commissioned by the Australian Episcopal Conference to set up the centre.

Fr White was already involved in parish enquiry centres at the time, focussing on non-Catholics. He visited England for a period of six months during 1958 to study the work there. Upon his return Fr White began by writing some articles for the Catholic Weekly and other Catholic papers explaining what was propsed for the Centre and requesting donations.

Fr White began the Australian Catholic Enquiry Centre from the Oblate Fathers' residence in Penshurst, Sydney. It operated there until mid 1959 when premises were rented at 259 Maroubra Rd, Maroubra.

In 1962 that house, along witha double story house next door (261 Maroubra Rd) was purchased from the Catholic Women's League of Sydney for $15,000 with funds raised by the Centre. The larger house was converted to offices, the smaller house being retained as a residence for the priests assigned to the Centre.

The Purpose of the Centre

The Catholic Enquiry Centre was founded to be a centre of the Catholic Church in Australia to reach out beyond the Church to offer an invitation to all who are not Catholics to learn about and understand the Catholic religion. To those of no faith it gave the opportunity to come to know Jesus Christ and His message. To those of other faiths it explained the doctrine and life of the Catholic Church. To all it offered an invitation to embrace the Catholic faith and way of life. During its more than fifty years the Centre has sent its introductory course to over 200,000 people of all faiths and none. This has led to thousands of conversions, lives committed anew to God and to a breaking down of prejudice and lack of understanding about the Church. It has been a major force for evangelisation across Australia.

Mandate (1976)

In August 1976, the Episcopal Conference confirmed the Catholic Enquiry Centre's activities under the following headings.

(a) To develop and promote courses that explain the Catholic Faith today to enquirers;

(b) To develop and promote courses in adult religious education;

(c) to develop and promote activities that effectivley evangelise unbelievers; and

(d) to distribute the current publications of the Catholic Enquiry Centre

Mandate (2007)

In November 2007, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference confirmed the catholic Enquiry Centre's activities under the following headings:

  • Providing clear information about the Catholic Faith for those who are searching for faith, primarily "enquirers" with information about the Catholic Faith in the form of a series of eighteen pamphlets. (The series of pamphlets has been replaced by the book "Call and Response: An Introduction to the Catholic Faith")
  • Assisting Catholics seeking a return to the practice of their faith, including listening and responding to questions about the teachings and practice of the Church
  • Communicating with people of other religious backgrounds as well as promoting inter-religious understanding

CEC National Directors

Fr White was Director of the CEC from 1959 until 1972. His vision, drive and constancy in this mission laid a firm foundation which has stood the test of time.

Table of CEC Directors

Name Dates of Engagement
Rev Thomas White (Archdiocese of Melbourne) 1959 -1973
Rev Les Cashen (Archdiocese of Sydney) 1973 - 1977
Rev Dr James Fitzpatrick OMI 1978 - 1984
Rev Con Jordan MSC 1984 - 1987
Rev Terence Kelly SM 1987 - 1994
Mr Terence O'Loughlin 1994 - 1999
Rev Paul O'Donnell (Diocese of Wilcannia Forbes) 2001 - 2005
Mrs Marita Winters 2006 - 2014
Mr Shane Dwyer 2016 - present

Tribute to Fr Tom White - written by Bishop Joe Grech (Bishop of Sandurst) in 2009

Fr Tom White established the Catholic Enquiry Centre at the request of the Australian Bishops. He was born in County Tipperary, Ireland and was also my first Parish Priest in the Parish of St Joseph's Northcote (Archdiocese of Melbourne). Fr Tom set the Catholic Enquiry Centre centre on a sure footing because of his conviction and committment to the Catholic faith. He is very overt about what Jesus teaches and he constantly urges and leads people not only to know the facts about our Catholic faith but to go deeper and establish a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. He is not afraid to take every opportunity that presents itself to enthusiastically proclaim Jesus Christ and what He stands for.  Similarly his love of the Church prompts him to present its teaching in a consistent and relevent manner.