This happened on 18 September 2015 with the blessing and opening of what is now the chapel of St Stephen’s Catholic College that opened in 2006 at Mareeba in Far North Queensland.
Now completely renovated, the building previously was St Rita’s Church at Tolga, a town adjacent to Mareeba. It had been blessed and dedicated at Tolga on 23 January 1921, but has stood there unused in recent years.
Papers in the Cairns Diocesan Archives indicate that the Tolga church of 1921 was an enlargement of one that had been erected in 1885 at Watsonville, a long-gone mining village twenty-five kilometres away from Tolga and five kilometres inland of Herberton.
The church at Watsonville was opened in late 1885 by Fr (later Bishop) James Dominic Murray OSA, who was the first Augustinian resident priest at Herberton and pastor of almost all of the Hann and Atherton Tablelands; the only other two priests then serving in what is today the entire Diocese of Cairns were resident on the coast, one at Cooktown and the other at Cairns. The Watsonville chapel was described as being of wood construction, with its interior unlined and with no ceiling. The church at Tolga possessed these additional features, which the newspapers reported as being the work of Tolga carpenters.
The new college chapel in Mareeba thus has a connection with the previous 130 years of the Catholic Church and the Augustinian Order in Far North Queensland and it becomes the oldest place of Roman Catholic worship in the Diocese of Cairns that is currently in use. The church in the Cairns Diocese longest in continual in use, however, still remains Patrick’s Church in Herberton, which has functioned without interruption since 1889.