The growth of the catholic faith across central Queensland is one of an evolving mosaic owing much to European driven events such as gold rushes, the wool boom, coal and gas discoveries, the rise of the beef industry, immigration and tourism.
In 1862, Dr Quinn the Bishop of Brisbane sent two priests, Frs James Scully and Patrick Duhig, to visit the newly formed town of Rockhampton, to which over 3,000 Irish immigrants came between 1862-1865. The following year a young French priest, Father Charles Murlay, was appointed to take care of the newly formed Rockhampton Parish. Thus began the opening of parishes, convents and schools as the various migrant groups spread out across what is now the Rockhampton Diocese. The growth period spanned 120 years and was largely driven by a mission to firstly attend to immigrant workers and their families who brought their catholic faith into a new and foreign land, then secondly to minister to the poor and disadvantaged.
In 1881, the Diocese of Rockhampton was established by Pontifical Decree, with the Bishop Cani, an Italian, its first bishop, arriving the following year. In the beginning the diocese had a heavy Irish influence especially around Rockhampton and into the central west but further north around Mackay a Maltese influence later became evident, while Bundaberg had an Italian influence. Today (2018) most of the people of Central Queensland are native born of English, Irish or Scottish descent.
Mineral wealth and an influx of miners saw Mt Morgan parish created in 1884 two years after the establishment of this gold town. To support the influx of Catholics in the developing port city of Gladstone, Star of the Sea church opened in 1885. Pastoral developments and the growth of the wool industry spurred church development at Barcaldine while the Great Northern Rail line connecting the coast to the booming pastoral west brought churches to Emerald and then later Longreach, in 1893. By 1898, the rail line had travelled further west to Winton where the Catholic parish of St Patrick’s was created.
Further north, St Patrick’s Mackay was founded in 1865 and later, when agricultural developments improved sugar cane cropping, parishes opened at Marian and Sarina in 1923 and Finch Hatton in 1928. Growth in the Mackay township led to the North and South Mackay parishes being opened in 1946, followed by Mackay West in 1947.
To the west of Gladstone pastoral growth led to a parish being formed in the fertile Dawson Valley in 1926, then Monto in 1933, and Biloela in 1939. Fertile soils, sugar cane and small crops drove growth around Bundaberg, resulting in a new parish in 1930. As the township grew churches opened to cater for the faithful at Bundaberg West in 1946 and Bundaberg South in 1952.
In 1930, the Diocese of Townsville was formed from the northern part of the Diocese of Rockhampton and, as part of boundary changes, Bundaberg was separated from the Archdiocese of Brisbane and became part of the Diocese of Rockhampton.
Coal discoveries in the Dawson Valley and Bowen Basin fostered the new coal mining towns of Moura, Blackwater, Dysart and Moranbah. In Moura, site of the first large scale export of coal, St Michael’s church opened in 1972, even though baptisms were recorded there from 1941. At that time, Moura had been only a railway siding and was served by priests from Wowan (1925) and Theodore.
The opening of Bowen Basin parishes largely ended the era of parish building, with new churches in the post Vatican II style opened at Blackwater in 1973, Dysart in 1978, and Moranbah in 1979.
The last sixty years have seen a number of changes within the diocese. Vatican II called for the renewal of the liturgy to enable the people a more ready access to its riches. In Australian society, an ongoing secularistion has seen a fall in the numbers of Catholics who would regularly practice their faith. The falling numbers of priests have led to amalgamations and clustering of parishes. Lay people are encouraged to become more involved in the life of the church and to participate in the liturgy and parish administration. In recent years, a number of overseas priests, primarily from India and Nigeria, have come to serve in the diocese. As well, many migrants from non-European background have moved into the region and those within the Catholic Church have enriched the diocese with their customs and traditions.