Fr John has retired from full-time duties but now as a Pastor Emeritus undertakes tasks such as travelling four hours by car from Atherton to Chillagoe monthly to provide Mass there on a Sunday.
The vast area that has since become the Diocese of Cairns was from 1884 to 1948 the pastoral responsibility of the Irish Augustinian Province to lead and staff with priests, under the successive administrations of Augustinian Bishops John Hutchinson, James Dominic Murray and John Heavey. Like numerous mining towns, Chillagoe experienced a rapid growth that was eventually followed by a slow decline. It became a separate Catholic mission area (“parish”) when Fr Joseph Phelan OSA was sent to live and minister there in 1908, a decade after the town had commenced. Chillagoe continued having a resident Augustinian pastor until 1939, after which it became one more stopping point for a priest from Mareeba (and later Herberton) who by motor vehicle drove around the Gulf Mission a number of times annually.
Today's galvanised iron Catholic church building at Chillagoe has literally had a moving history. The earlier wooden parish church at Chillagoe, when standing disused in 1944, was destroyed by fire. In recent decades the present church building was transported to Chillagoe from Dimbulah, where it had served from 1937 until replaced by Dimbulah’s present church in 1973. Before then, the Chillagoe/Dimbulah church building had stood sequentially on two different sites at the mining village of Wolfram Camp, not far northwest of Dimbulah. First built there in1906, it was subsequently destroyed by a cyclone and was rebuilt on another site in Wolfram Camp in 1914, to be used rarely once Wolfram Camp declined after 1920, whence it lay dormant until moved to Dimbulah. Possibly the rebuilt Wolfram Camp church of 1914 contained only parts of the original 1906 church, but even so in 2014 it stood in Chillagoe a century old – although still a youngster compared to St Patrick’s Church of 1889 still operating in Herberton.
May Fr Newman and his small monthly flock in Chillagoe have a blessed 2015.