Our Parish History

Last updated on 18 August 2022

History & Information

The current area of the St John the Evangelist Parish is 13.3km2 with a perimeter of 20km.
The parish includes the suburbs of Campbelltown, Bradbury and Leumeah.

The first Mass was celebrated in Campbelltown by pioneer priest Fr John Joseph Therry in 1822.

Current boundaries of the Campbelltown Parish. (in purple; note West is up)
At one time it included all of the Macarthur, Illawarra and Southern Highlands as far as Goulburn and Yass.


Fr John Joseph Therry arrived in Sydney with Fr Philip Connolly 5 May 1820 on board the ship “Janus”. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1815, Fr Therry worked in Dublin and it was there that he was prompted to volunteer for the penal colony of New South Wales after experiencing the trials and tribulations of Irish convicts bound for Sydney.

In September 1819, Bishop Slater commissioned Fr Therry and Fr Connolly to work throughout the whole of New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land. The civil authorities authorised Governor Macquarie to pay both men an allowance of £100 per annum. The two priests quickly settled areas of influence in the new colony and Fr Connolly set sail for Hobart leaving Fr Therry the territory radiating from the settlement of Sydney. The area West and South West of Sydney were the first settled and Fr Therry found himself frequently in Parramatta, Liverpool and the district known as Airds.

Campbelltown and its environs was indeed the base for much of what happened in the colony. James Ruse had grown the first wheat at Parramatta in 1789. John Macarthur was busy developing the wool industry at Camden Park Estate and Hamilton Hume set out from his Appin property to explore an overland route to Port Philip Bay. Fr Therry travelled in the tracks of Hume in his missionary journeys to the southern parts of New South Wales.

The First Mass – 200 years ago

Fr Therry said the first Mass in Campbelltown 1 September 1822. It was to be celebrated on “The Green”, an area now known as Mawson Park; however a sudden rainstorm forced a change of plans and Fr Therry took his congregation into the unfinished Anglican church of St Peter. This impromptu gesture produced a hue and cry from the Anglican rector, Mr Redall, who complained to the Governor who in turn reprimanded Fr Therry. The unrepentant Irishman replied that his action only bestowed honour on the new St Peter’s church. Relations between Fr Therry and Mr Redall were not strained too long as it is on record that the Anglican rector made a donation towards Therry’s appeal for his church building fund.

From this time onwards Fr Therry was a regular visitor to the Campbelltown area baptising, celebrating Mass, regularising marriages, tending the sick and burying the dead. The first recorded Catholic burial in Campbelltown was that of Thomas Acres, 24 January 1824.

The original St John’s Church

The foundation stone of St John the Evangelist Church was laid 12 December 1824. The Sydney Gazette 16 June 1825 announced that Fr Therry acknowledged the gift of five acres of land at Campbelltown from James Burke for a chapel, schoolhouse and burial ground. For the next ten years Campbelltown Catholics struggled to raise funds for the completion of St John’s Church. Early records are studded with references of meetings to finance the project. The Catholic community gathered at local public houses such as Cullen’s Inn and the Forbes Hotel to mount fundraising campaigns. That part of the Burke gift devoted to the cemetery was consecrated 27 December 1826.

It was at this time that Fr Therry fell foul of the government authorities and Governor Darling withdrew his allowance from 24 June 1826. Funds seemed to be short throughout the Catholic community and little happened in the completion of St John’s Church until early in 1833 when Mr Roger Therry advised Fr Therry that some Government financial assistance would be available for the completion of St John’s Church. Governor Darling had assured Roger Therry that the Home Government was agree able to advance funds equal to those subscribed by the local community.

It seems that at this time work had progressed on the walls to a height of a single storey. In July 1833 William McNalley agreed to complete the stone work on the walls and in December of that year William Broker tendered and was engaged for the shingling and com pletion of the church roof. David Lee and Patrick Bleaney agreed to complete the floor, doors, sashes and to glaze the windows for £388.

In a despatch to Lord Stanley, 30 September 1833, Governor Bourke wrote:

“The sum of £400 has been appropriated to be paid in the next year in aid of similar sum to be raised by private subscription for erecting Roman Catholic Chapels at Maitland and Campbelltown. A chapel was begun at the latter place as well as at Parramatta some years ago, but neither has been completed from want of funds.”

Fr Therry offered the first Mass in St John’s Church, Campbelltown 27 July 1834.

Thomas Burk (Burke) was a Tipperary Irish convict who arrived in the colony with his family on board the vessel “Anne” in 1801. He was ultimately pardoned and granted 150 acres of land in Airds. It was James Burke, son of Thomas Burke, who is referred to in The Sydney Gazette 16 June 1825. Thomas Burke is buried in St John’s Cemetery Campbelltown and his descendants live on in Campbelltown to this day.

St John’s Church Campbelltown has not always been acclaimed for its architecture. The Sydney Mail on 27 October 1883 carries a description of St John’s: “The church itself stands conspicuously on one of the highest hills, and from it a lovely view of the surrounding country can be obtained; in the mode of selecting a site, the founders of the church having apparently proved the good example set them by their Protestant brethren at Camden and Cobbity. In point of architecture the building is peculiar. It is lofty, built substantially of stone and square in form. The roof is low and flat with eaves at each end. Unlike any other church we ever saw, it has two rows of windows, the larger over the smaller, which gives the idea of the church having two floors. What the object could have been in devising this plan is incomprehensible.”

It seems that these disparaging comments were not the first about St John’s or the architectural ability of Fr Therry. Fr Ullathorne in his autobiography says, “I had also to look after the completion of the Church begun at Maitland, and to start another at Parramatta. I had the assistance of the Government Architect in devising the plans. But, what to my surprise, on arriving at Maitland, to find that without my knowledge, Father Therry had been there and had doubled the number of windows in the walls. This was one of his singularities, to put as many windows in a building as the walls would allow, without any consideration for the intense glare of heated light. Thus in the old Cathedral of Sydney he put seventy large windows, two rows in one wall. At Campbelltown his church was like a cage.”

When Fr Gould took parochial charge in 1838, St John’s had an average Sunday attendance of 250 persons, including the children, 45 boys and 30 girls from St Patrick’s School. This number included Appin, Menangle, Narellan and Cooke. The district had 810 Catholics. Land was purchased in 1839 from Mr Fieldhouse on which a presbytery was eventually erected. This land fronted Cordeaux Street and an additional portion on the corner of Cordeaux and Lindesay Streets in 1840 for £30. A log belfry stood on this land until about 1860 when it was replaced by the one seen in the photographs of St John’s Church, Cordeaux Street. Fr John Sumner, who was appointed to Appin in 1835 and ordained in 1836, lived with Fr Gould in Campbelltown. He held Divine Service in a cottage built for the convenience of Fr Therry by the district Constable.

1964 plans for the expanded church.

Key Dates – Old Saint John’s Church

1 SEPTEMBER 1822 – The First Mass was celebrated in Campbelltown. It was to have been held on “The Green”, Mawson Park; but with rain coming on, it was held in the unfinished Anglican Church of St Peter.

12 DECEMBER 1824 – The Foundation Stone of the Church of St John the Evangelist was laid.

16 JUNE 1825 – in the Sydney Gazette Fr John J Therry acknowledged James Bourke’s gift of 5 acres of land, as a site for a Chapel, Schoolhouse and a Burial Ground.

27 DECEMBER 1826 – St John’s Cemetery was consecrated.

27 JULY 1834 – According to an entry in Fr Therry’s Diary, Mass was offered for the first time in the new chapel.

19 JULY 1835 – From this date Mass was said on a regular basis, in the weather-proofed chapel.

20 SEPTEMBER 1835 – (Sunday) Fr Therry commenced duty as Parish Priest of Campbelltown, which included Illawarra & Argyle – an area which extended beyond Yass. There were 310 Catholics in Campbelltown.

5 SEPTEMBER 1837 – James Ruse died and was buried in St John’s Cemetery, Campbelltown.

31 AUGUST 1841 – The Church of St John the Evangelist was opened with a Solemn High Mass by Rev Fr Murphy, Vicar General; assisted by Deans Kenny & Grant, with Frs Goold, Sumner, Slattery, Moran, Fitzpatrick, Dunphy, Nagennis & Hogan. An eloquent sermon was delivered on the attributes of the Saint after whom the church has been named.

21 JULY 1856 – Lots 2, 19 & 20 Crown lands (fronting Sturt Street) were granted to the Trustees of St John’s Church, Campbelltown.

12 OCTOBER 1856 – St John’s Church, Campbelltown was desecrated. The “emblem of sacrifice” was destroyed and thrown into the Reservoir.

14 JUNE 1886 – The Foundation stone of St John’s Church, at the corner of Cordeaux & Lindesay Streets was laid by Cardinal Moran.

13 DECEMBER 1886 – The “new” Church of St John’s was privately opened and blessed by Fr James Dunne.

22 MAY 1887 – The new church at Campbelltown was officially opened by Cardinal Moran.

The Ashlar walls of “Old St John’s” were rendered to make them weatherproof and the convent was blessed and opened by Cardinal Moran.

1888 – “Old St John’s” became St Patrick’s Convent.

22 MAY 1951 – The Catholic Cemetery at Campbelltown was classified by the National Trust.

15 MARCH 1964 – new Porches, transcepts, and stained glass added to St John’s Church, were opened and blessed by Bishop Thomas McCabe.

31 OCTOBER 1982 – The Rosary was recited at 12 noon in St John’s Cemetery, for all the Holy Souls.

13 NOVEMBER 1983 – The Fellowship of the First Fleeters, unveiled a plaque on the tombstone of James Ruse, at 2pm.

27 JULY 1984 – The 150th Anniversary of the First Eucharist celebrated in “Old St John’s”. Archbishop Luigi Barboulo, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, Principal Celebrant.

29 JULY 1984 – Open-Air Mass Concelebrated at “Old St John’s Church”, following a procession from St John’s Church in Cordeaux Street. Bishop Murray, Archbishop Clancy, with Frs Paul Ryan and Peter Confeggi, followed by a family day in St John’s Hall.

MAY 1985 – A State Government grant was received towards the restoration of Old St John’s.

27 JULY 1988 – Commemorative Mass in Old St John’s; internal restoration complete and building re-opened as a Church. Pews and Altar are from Leichhardt (now demolished). Three seater pews original to the church. Appear to be the type used by the Sisters in the convent chapel to chant their office.

Additions – architecturally questionable – were added to three sides of the church in 1964 to increase the seating capacity.

St John’s in Cordeaux Street

Father James Dunne took charge of Campbelltown parish in 1886 and one of his first tasks was to look to a new parish church. In March 1886 he signed a contract with Mr Oliver Harley of Darlinghurst for the erection and completion of St John’s Church, Cordeaux Street for a sum of £1686. The architect was Mr J.B. Barlow and Mr Harley was bound to complete the church in 36 weeks. In June an additional contract was let for the adding of a chancel and sacristy together with the removal of the old water-closet and the building of two new ones for a cost of £350.

Cardinal Moran blessed and laid the foundation stone of the new St John’s on the corner of Cordeaux and Lindesay Streets, 14 June 1886. The work was finished before Christmas and Fr Dunne privately blessed and opened the church 12 December. The official opening was performed by Cardinal Moran 22 May 1887.

In the late 1950s the church was experiencing the strains of population growth, so in 1960-61 an attempt was made to raise funds to build a new church. When this failed, Fr Grant instead opted to enlarge the existing church with brick extensions on three sides to increase the seating capacity. This project was not sympathetic to the original 1880s stone church.

  • The bell from old St John’s is now installed in the enlarged church on Cordeaux St.
  • In 2022 plans are underway to renovate the interior of the church and enhance the entrance to the church.

Pastor’s of St John’s

Priests in charge of Campbelltown Parish while it was part of the Archdiocese of Sydney.

1835-1838Fr John Joseph Therry – Parish Priest
1838-1848Fr James Alipius Goold – Parish Priest (Became Bishop, then Archbishop of Melbourne)
1850-1877Fr John Paul Roche – Parish Priest
1878-1883Mgr John P. Lynch – Parish Priest
1884-1885Fr Augustus William Petre – Parish Priest
1886-1933Fr James Dunne – Parish Priest
1933-1954Fr Arthur McHugh – Parish Priest

Priests in charge of Campbelltown Parish after its incorporation into the Diocese of Wollongong.

1954-1955Fr Thomas Vaughan – Parish Administrator
1955-1957Fr Isadore Ekerick – Parish Administrator
1957-1974Fr Thomas Grant – Parish Administrator and church builder
1974-1978Fr Peter Lewis Comensoli – Parish Administrator
1978-1985Fr Paul Ryan – Parish Priest (later Monsignor)
1985-1997Fr Bryan Jones – Parish Priest (later Monsignor)
1997-2017Fr Michael Healy – Parish Priest
2017-Fr John Ho – Parish Priest
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