History of Our Parish

St. John’s Parish is part of the St. Lawrence Pastoral Area – together with The Sacred Heart Church, Killea, The Cathedral and Ss Joseph and Benildus.

History of our Parish

Looking back through the mists of time is inhibited by the failure of past generations to preserve what has been written. This is certainly true of the early St. John’s churches in Waterford City. We are told by historians that the priory of St. John’s was founded by King John for the Benedictine Order in the year 1212 and that in the early part of the thirteenth century one of its monks named ‘Walter’ was consecrated Bishop of Waterford.

 The remains of the abbey may be seen at the junction of Manor Street and Parliament Street.

With the advent of the Reformation and the suppression of the religious houses, Sir Thomas Wyse, a catholic from the city was granted the Priory and its lands ‘for services rendered to the crown.’ After centuries of Benedictine Rule, we find, thanks to Sr Thomas Wyse, a small Cistercian community serving St. John’s and its parish.  However, at the time of Cromwell and James II of England, the church gradually fell into decay and had to be abandoned, although the hapless Catholics, expelled from their city by the Cromwellian Corporation were grudgingly permitted to bury their dead within the sacred precincts – at night.

The parishioners of St. John’s resorted to attending Masses in various houses outside the city walls. These of course would have been held in secret without the knowledge of the authorities as there was a price of £5 on the head of a priest or for the head of a wolf. This type of worship would have continued up to the early part of the eighteenth century or at least until the Penal Laws were rescinded, somewhat. In the interval between the presence of the Cistercians at the Priory of St. John’s and the occupancy of  the old Quaker building at Manor street as a place of worship, it is believed that a little thatched Franciscan chapel which stood on an obscure site near the north end of the present St. Declan’s School, served as a chapel and Friary. A pathway from the bridge at Johnstown through the marshy land towards South Parade served as a Mass path for the faithful on their way to this building known as ‘The Little Chapel of Johnstown’.

In olden times the parish of St. John’s was an amalgamation of St. Laurence’s Church (Killl St. Laurence), St. John’s and St. Mary’s. The photograph opposite shows St. Lawrence standing next to a burner – he was martyred by burning. In the year 1800, the parishioners of St. John’s acquired the old Quaker Meeting House in Bowling Green Lane, now Manor Street. Although adequate for the worshippers at that time, it could not compare with the most basic of today’s churches. However, having gone through centuries of oppression, we may rest assured that the parishioners were grateful for the use of this old building.  

On the elevation of its parish priest Rev. Fr. John Power to the mitre in 1804, St. John’s Parish no longer had a parish priest, that is until the appointment of Fr. John Boyle as PP in 1985.

Historians differ to the exact year in which work began on the present building. However, it is likely that the work did commence in 1837 and the completed building was blessed and opened on February 17th 1850 by Bishop Foran of Waterford and Lismore (photograph of Bishop Foran holding the plans of the new church building). The cost of building, the church ‘shell’ i.e. outer walls and roof, was comparatively small at £8000 even for those times. Building costs were kept to a minimum through the use of ‘day labour’. Each person working on the building was employed for one day at a time. It was a very simple building at first and most of what we see in the current building was added in the last century including the stained glass windows representing the seven sacraments, installed in the 1950’s.

1863 – the quadrangle tower was added. Unfortunately, owing to defects of foundation, the spire and upper portion of the tower had to be taken down some years later.

1873 – the heavy debt incurred by the parishioners was cleared in its entirety under the administratorship of Rev. Patrick Nolan.

1897 – the church grounds were extended on the west side where some small dilapidated houses had stood. Also in this year a generous gift of an altar composed of Irish and Italian marble and an altar slab of immense thickness of the choicest Sicilian marble was made to the church. As a work of art is was believed to be equal to the best altars in Ireland.

1898 – the Holy Week ceremonies had to be cancelled due to repair work on the building. It is probable that this was the only occasion in the life of the present building that the church was unavailable for Holy Week.

1905 – the original sacristy was replaced by a more spacious building, as we know of today.

1928 – the church lighting was changed over from gaslight to electricity. As one can imagine, St. John’s, like all similar churches at that time, were very bleak places on a winter’s evening when lit only by gaslight.

1933 – Adm. Rev. David Power set about clearing the debt of the church and having finally succeeded in his task; the church was formally consecrated.

1938 – a new pneumatic organ of German manufacture was installed by Telford Organ Builders – total cost £8,500.

1950 – Fr. Michael Barron who was the first priest to be ordained in St. John’s, was administrator during the centenary of the church. He altered entirely the appearance of the church internally. Included in these was the building of a baptistery, the removal of the ornamental screens which divided the side altars from the sanctuary. Photograph opposite is of the baptistery which is now The Blessed Sacrament Chapel where the faithful can go each weekday morning to pray in front of the Sacred Presence.

Fr. Barron was also responsible for the removal of the large porches at the main entrance and side entrances to the church and the remodeling of the organ gallery. He was also responsible for the recessing of the confessionals and refurbishing the altar rails at the side altars. In his time, seven new glass windows were installed, representing the seven sacraments. Fr. Raphael Power, his successor, completed this work and had the church redecorated. 

1955 – Mr. Francis X. Keegan was appointed organist and remains so to the present day.

1961 – Fr. Robert Keane was responsible for the building of St. Joseph and Benildus and the Sacred Heart Church in the Folly. Also the renovation of St. Mary’s Ballygunner. He was also responsible for having the new terrazzo floor installed in St. John’s, the building of the ‘Cry Chapel’ and the renovation of the sacristy. Donations to the basket collection, at this time, rose from £38 per week to £500 weekly.

Stained Glass Windows

The sum of £100 was donated by Sir Henry Page – Turner Barron to Dr. Power Bishop of Waterford for the erection of a stained glass window memorial, and the erection of a monument to his name in St. John’s Church. The monument, the only one in the church, is situated almost adjacent to the entrance to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

This was the first known contribution to the stained glass windows which are a pictorial history of the old parish of St. John’s; the amalgamation of St. Lawrence’s, St. Mary’s and St. John’s. The former two being known in olden times as St. John’s without.

The windows over the main altar were manufacture circa 1890 in Munich.

The centre window shows three events in the life of Our Lord Jesus. Both upper sections
picture the Resurrection and the Ascension. The main centre section shows the
Transfiguration with the kneeling figure of St. John in the centre, flanked on either side by
St. Peter and St. James. At all of these events, St. John the Evangelist was present reminding
us of his patronage of both the old and new parish. The kneeling figure (left window lower)
as already mentioned above, is that of Dr. Foran with the plans of the church. Beside him is St. Otteran, patron of the diocese and above them are St. Patrick and St. Brigid and at the very top is St. Lawrence.

The window to the right of the main altar (Photo 1) depicts various events in the life of Our Lady. The top one showing Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven. This window commemorates the old parish of St. Mary’s.

Between 1944 and 1945 the seven ‘Seven Sacrament’ windows were installed along both side walls.

At the right hand side facing the main altar we have three windows – Photo 2 shows ‘scenes from the life of St. Lawrence. Also on this side is a window dedicated to the ‘Miracle of Lourdes’. At the centre top is St. Bernadette flanked to the right by a pope and to her left, bishops and priests. (Photo 8) The centre sections show Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette while the both lower pictures relate to the sick and blessing of the sick at the grotto.

The final window on this side of the church is of Mary and The Holy Family as shown opposite. Top is Our Lady Queen of Heaven flanked on both sides by a floral display. Below centre is the Holy Family and The Immaculate Heart of Mary. Bottom is the Holy Family with the Magi and the Holy Family with Simeon in the Temple. (photo 4)

The third window on the right side of the church depicts the Sacred Heart with saints flanked on both sides. Below the Sacred Heart is Jesus appearing to St. Margaret Mary and below right is the ‘Agony in the Garden’. Bottom left is St. William and bottom right is either  St. Aloysius. (photo 5)

On the opposite side near St. Joseph’s Altar; the window  is dedicated to the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady flanked by saints. Unfortunately we do not know who they are.Below centre is Mary on her death bed and the Apostles looking towards heaven.The lower pictures are of Jesus as a boy in the Temple and the Flight into Egypt. (photo 6)

In the ‘Jim Grant Rooms’ behind Our Lady’s Altar is a beautiful window depicting the Resurrection, Crucifixion and the Annunciation. Its main theme being the crucifixion.
It is said to be beyond monetary value.  (photo 7)

 Fr. McNamara P.P. St John’s with Mrs. Kathleen O’Hagan – during the refurbishment of the church windows.

All of the above, other than the ‘Seven Sacrament’ windows were refurbished in 2008 – 2009 at a cost of €355,000.00.

The main portion of this sum was donated by our parishioners and those who come to St. John’s.

A very special word of thanks to them for their munificent contribution to the repair and refurbishment of the windows.

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