As far as can be ascertained, St. John’s is the oldest surviving Catholic church in the Auckland Diocese and one of the oldest in New Zealand. It was founded by the first Bishop of Auckland, Jean Baptiste Francois Pompallier, and formally instituted by his Lordship on Sunday 12th of May 1861. This was a decade after Governor Hobson’s establishment (short-lived) of Auckland as the political capital of New Zealand.
St John’s was for its first year a dependency of Auckland’s pro-Cathedral, the first St Patricks. St John’s first priest, the Rev M O’Hara. was a priest of that Cathedral.For some years before the church was built, there was a Catholic primary school on an adjoining site – first with a lay staff and later administered by the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters kept the school for more than a hundred years until the Order withdrew from Parnell in 1964. The school was then regrettably closed, and the numerous ministrations of the Sisters were sadly lost to the parish.
In 1862 St. John’s became a parish church, and was given to the care of the Franciscans. The friars were mostly Italian, recruited by Pompallier from Rome. They worked in the parish for eleven years, then dispersed and went on to other missions overseas.
For the following one hundred and seven years St. John’s had Diocesan clergy as parish priests. Many were men of distinguished parts. Two were raised from Parnell to the episcopal dignity. One, at the beginning of the 20th Century, was a vigorous builder. He enlarged the old church by the present wider extension to the rear, built the present presbytery, and erected a new convent (now converted to secular uses. In 1980 the Marist Fathers assumed responsibility for the parish. In the capable hands, first of the Rev. J. Sloane SM and then the Rev. T Fitzpatrick SM, the aggiornamento prescribed by the Second Vatican Council was introduced gradually in the liturgy, and lay participation became the order of the day.
A second change at St. John’s was the welcome influx of youth, many of them students from South East Asia who came to New Zealand to complete their higher studies. Young and old assimilated happily together. With an organ and choir St John’s vibrated with life again.
In 1989 the Marists withdrew from Parnell. The parish reverted to diocesan status under the pastoral care of Fr. Kevin Hackett. With his judicious and orthodox ministrations St John’s flourished as a house of prayer and praise to the Lord.
In 1997 a complete refurbishment of the church was completed and 2017 saw the last stage of a renovation of the presbytery.
A more complete history of St. John’s is available from the parish office, 212 Parnell Rd, Parnell.