St John's, Johnstown, Kapunda, South Australia

St John's, Johnstown, Kapunda.

A government grant of land, about 5 kilometres to the southeast of Kapunda, in 1849 gave rise to the largest Catholic community in South Australia at that time. It consisted mainly of Irish Catholics and they soon started with the building of a wooden slab hut for services to be held. At the same time a start was made with a stone church. The foundation stone of St John the Evangelist Church was laid by Bishop Francis Murphy on 2 April 1850.

Unfortunately most of the men left after hearing about the gold rushes in Victoria and it was not until 30 April 1854 that the church was finished and officially opened in the presence of more than 400 people. The church was furnished with the help of Mrs Barr Smith. A school was opened in 1859 and from 1868 conducted by the Sisters of St Joseph. A post office operated between 1867 and 1879.

Shortly after his ordination in July 1849 by Dr Murphy, Father John Fallon, of Galway, Ireland, was appointed first Parish Priest of Kapunda and soon after became parish priest at St Johns and remained there until his death on 25 March 1860, aged 40. He was buried in St Johnís Church, which he had built, but his remains were removed in 1891 and interred in the nearby cemetery, which had opened in 1861. The original cemetery, with about a hundred burials, was used until that year and was located about 70 metres to the north of the church.

Father Fallon was succeeded by Father Michael Ryan. He died on 24 August 1865. Among some of the others to serve the community were Fathers Jeremiah Moynahan who died 21 December 1867, Hyland, who died on 13 April 1868 and F. Byrne. The last parish priest was Father James Martin who died in 1921. During the South Australian Centenary celebrations of 1936 a headstone was erected on Father Fallonís grave by the parishioners and unveiled by Archbishop Killian on 4 October.

During his time at St Johns, or Johnstown as it became known, Father Fallon had performed 167 weddings and baptised more than 750 people. He lived in the presbytery which was build at the same time as the church. In 1869 it was converted to a convent and school, run by the Sisters of St Joseph.

Father Ryan also performed many weddings. On 3 April 1864 he performed the ceremony for Horace Mc Kinley and Martha Craig, eldest daughter of John Craig, farmer of River Light. Father Carew was there on 10 October to join Joseph J. Walsh and M.A. Carley in Holy Matrimony.

After a church was completed at Kapunda, the church at Johnstown was used as a school and in 1897 as part of a reformatory for girls, also under the supervision of the Sisters of St Joseph. This was made possible after an Act had been proclaimed in 1895 allowing the State Children's Council to place Catholic State Children in private institutions, as long as they were away from Adelaide.

Mary MacKillop lived at Johnstown for three months supervising the alterations. She was assisted by John Rodgers' family. Irishman John Rodgers had been an early settler at St Johns but had died in 1866. The first of the Sisters to be stationed at the reformatory was Helena OíBrien, installed as matron by Mother Mary MacKillop herself in 1897. The 1901 annual report of the Council stated that the reformatory was kept in splendid order and the girls well cared for, receiving good religious, moral and practical training. Even so, it was difficult to obtain jobs for the girls in Catholic homes.

The reformatory was extended in 1899 but still many girls tried, and succeeded in, escaping from the building. As many as 120 girls were placed in the home by the State Childrenís Council. It was closed in 1909 by Archbishop O'Reily. The remaining girls were transferred to the Redruth Girls Reformatory in Burra. From then on the building was used as a private dwelling until the 1950s. It was demolished in 2002. A window of St Johnís church was later built into the present St Roseís Church in Kapunda in 1938. Although nothing remains of Johnstown, its cemetery, planned by Martin O'Shea, is still used.


St John the Evangelist Church.


Presbytary and part of Reformatory.


Below are SOME of the headstones of St John's Cemetery. In an attempt to save as much space as possible and increase the speed of downloading, only part of the stone is displayed. Flinders Ranges Research has a full photograph of each of these, and many others as well.

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