Way back in the 30s or thereabouts there was a little rural village called St John, nestled snugly in the foothills of the Northern Range, watched over caringly by monks of Mount St Benedict. There were few villagers occupying even fewer homes.
This did not stop their religious zeal or fervour. There were two or three cars and the Mount bus to take you to the Monastery, but the simple villagers almost always trudged up the hill, never availing themselves of a ride. A bridle path cut through the bushes and the hill called the “short cut” assisted them to go “up the hill” for their Sunday Mass and other services.
Years later, Fr Bede Theunissen, a Dutch monk from the Monastery decided to take the weekend Mass to the villagers. A classroom in the St Benedict’s RC School in the village became the place for Mass. Volunteers converted the classroom on Fridays and replaced the desks on Sunday afternoons. This continued for several years.
Then in the 40s came that big Caura Dam fiasco, with the village, including the Church, being decimated. This saw a number of Caura families migrating to St John and growing the population exponentially. Naturally, the Catholic population increased and the congregation kept growing. A larger place of worship was needed. The schoolroom had become too small.
A community centre/hall type structure had been built by St Benedict on donated land and this was used by several groups in St John. All those activities gave way when it was decided to use the building as the village church. At that time, we were not yet a parish, but gratuitously overseen by the Mount who assigned another Dutch monk Fr Gregory Kloeg, who worked tirelessly in the village winning souls.
Fast forward to the 50s and Fr Bede organised for a new building on the same piece of land, on part to house his woodworking school and the other part as a hall for the Catholic Youth Organisation (CYO). Then it happened. The workshop was moved. The CYO was disbanded nationally by the late Archbishop Count Finbar Ryan.
All the while, St John really formed part of the St Joseph Parish. All baptisms, first communion confirmations, weddings and funerals had to take place at the St Joseph Church, some two miles away. After several years, through the hard work and negotiations with St Joseph and the Archdiocese and with Fr Gregory at the helm, finally it was done. St John had triumphantly become its own Parish—the smallest in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain. Naturally the indomitable and well-loved, people’s priest Fr Gregory Kloeg was appointed our very first Parish Priest.
The building, the same in which we now congregate for worship, with renovations and fully refurbished interior was consecrated as the village church in the late 50s. The altar was originally off the northern wall until it was placed along the eastern wall by Parish Priest Fr Geofroy.
Now more than five decades later we gather in that same building but worship in an almost completely rearranged Church, complete with special choir area, modern pews, baptismal font, child-care room and brand new offices and a private sanctuary for priests.
The Parish of St John the Baptist (St Augustine) is proud and grateful to have a new and modern Church and the facilities will be well-utilised by both parishioners and visitors.
Vernon Khelawan is a senior parishioner of St John the Baptist RC Church and a retired journalist.