The Catholic Church with Archbishop Polding, Father Patrick Hallinan, (Parish Priest of Windsor) and Samuel Mason (1805-1880) acting as Trustees, purchased three quarters of an acre of land fronting Old Pitt Town Road, Box Hill, from Mr. Samuel Henry Terry on 29th. December 1865 to build a schoolhouse, the purchase price was Ten Shillings ($1). Known as the Nelson School and also used as a Church it opened on the 15th. December 1866, operating under instructions from The Denominational School Board, the Teacher was Mr. James P Cusack who had been the Headmaster of the Catholic School at Cattai that closed down the day before the Nelson School opened. Following the Public Instruction Act of 1880, this school became a Public School and was leased by the Department of Public Instruction from the Church at Windsor until it closed down on the 30th. June 1891. The school was demolished, the Catholic Church at Riverstone retaining the block of ground until the lOth. March 1984 when it was sold by Public Auction Sale as a house site.
The first Catholic Church at Riverstone was opened on the 2nd. July 1882. This year of 1882 also saw the laying of the Foundation Stone of St. Joseph's Convent at Windsor on the 20th August by Archbishop Vaughan. Named St. John's the Church at Riverstone was of weatherboard construction with corrugated, galvanised iron roof and stood where the present church now stands, being demolished about mid April 1904, after the ceremony of the Blessing and Laying of the Foundation Stone of the present church on Sunday lOth Apri11904, by His Eminence Cardinal Moran. An apology was offered for Dr. Sheehy, the old Pastor who had given the five acres of land upon which the old church stood. Dr. Sheehy was the Parish Priest at Windsor from 1874 to 1886.
In a report of the Foundation Stone Ceremony in the Hawkesbury Herald of the 15th Apri11904, it states how His Eminence accompanied by Reverend Father Kelly of St. Mary's, Sydney, had arrived by train at Windsor on the Saturday afternoon, then on Sunday afternoon was driven to Riverstone in Mr. W. Mortley's fine new drag. All the Windsor coaches were in the procession and were crowded with passengers, between Windsor and Riverstone buggies and sulkies joined in until the procession was half a mile long. On arrival at Riverstone His Eminence was greeted by a crowd of fully 300. (The report of this ceremony in the Gazette of Saturday 16th April 1904 states that the procession of vehicles and those on horseback was over a mile long and that the crowd present during the Ceremony must have been upwards of one thousand people) Mr. Clem Daley read an address of welcome followed by Reverend Father McDonnell who also welcomed His Eminence then after Cardinal Moran spoke to the assembly a collection was taken up resulting in the amount of £154-l0-9. Mr. R.C. Preston proposed a vote of thanks to His Eminence Cardinal Moran saying the people of Riverstone esteemed the visit a very great honour and were grateful for his coming among them. Mr. Blattman very ably seconded this vote of thanks speaking at some length. Also in the Hawkesbury Herald of l5th April 1904 the original church of St. John's receives several mentions. It states how the old church was gaily decorated, a large banner across the front, bearing the motto, meaning a hundred thousand welcomes, a profusion of bunting and greenery completely transfomling the old building. Another says- the furniture from St. John's Catholic Church has been removed to the Oddfellows Hall, where services will be held until the new building is completed. Another item states- it will be seen by advertisement that all the timber, corrugated iron, fittings etc., of the old weatherboard Catholic Church at Riverstone will be sold by Public Auction on the grounds, on the afternoon of Saturday 23rd. The sale begins at 3pm. The building is being carefully taken to pieces and will be parcelled out in lots to suit the purchaser. Then there is the advertisement of sale above the name of C. Daley, Hon. Sec., on another page of the Hawkesbury Herald, which incidentally was two years old with that issue of 15th April 1904. Timber from the original church was bought by Samuel and Sarah Mason and used in the construction of their home at Marsden Park.
In the report of the opening of the new Church in The Gazette of the 12th November 1904, we read: The new Church of St. John's was Opened and Blessed by His Grace Archbishop Kelly on Sunday the 6th November 1904. His Eminence Cardinal Moran was to have performed the ceremony but illness prevented him from doing so. His Grace the Archbishop arrived in Windsor by the 7.19 p. m. train on Saturday evening and was the guest of Reverend Father McDonnell. After the celebration of the 7am Sunday Mass at Windsor, a procession formed up at the Presbytery and His Grace was followed to Riverstone by a long cavalcade of vehicles. When within a mile of Riverstone, the procession was met by about fifty men on horses who then headed the procession into town.
Upon arriving at the Church the congregation formed into a procession and followed the Archbishop round the building while he blessed it. After they re-entered the Church the Blessing Ceremony was proceeded with inside. Then followed a "Missa Cantata Mass" celebrated by Reverend Father McDonnell. The approximate seating capacity of the new Church is 300, but fully 400 people were crowded within its walls on Sunday last. A collection was taken up that realised £93-18-0, ($187.80) leaving a liability of £208-2-3 ($416.23) the total cost being £953-18-0 ($1907.80).
The Church is sixty feet long by twenty-eight feet wide and seventeen feet high to the eaves; the Sanctuary is eighteen by twenty feet, and the entry Porch is ten feet by six feet. The Church is of Gothic design, built of double pressed bricks, tuck pointed with black mortar, cement rendered on the inside with a nice dado and complete with a slate roof. The interior of the roof is diagonally panelled with Kauri and varnished making a very ornamental finish, the windows being of coloured glass to add further beauty, with stained glass work on the windows behind the Altar. The Contract Builder was Mr. W .H.Barrett while the Architect was Mr. James Nangle of Sydney. The windows in the North Eastern side were replaced with a light amber coloured glass about 1960. A small plaque under each of these four windows states they were erected;
In Loving Memory Of
- Thomas and Elizabeth Keogh and Patrick Mason
- Henry and John McNamara
- William and Sarah Cusack and Teresa Brady
- Patrick Mason
- Patrick Mason
Father Thomas Keogh donated the first window for his parents and great friend, Patrick Mason. The next window was donated by the McNamara Family for their husband and father, Henry, son and brother, John. John McNamara was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force attached to the Royal Air Force as a Bomber Pilot and was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, for services given to the French Resistance in the Second World War. This is the Highest French Military Award and was presented by President De Gaulle. John's plane was eventually shot down over Norway with the loss of the whole crew, they are all buried in Norway. The Mason Family of Crown Road, Riverstone donated the next window for their Uncle, Aunt and Cousin. The fourth window was donated by the Mason Family of Marsden Park in memory of their brother, Patrick.
A wooden altar rail, with a centre gate, separated the Sanctuary from the body of the Church. At Communion Time, this rail would be covered with a white cloth, this cloth was left hanging here and lifted up and over the top rail, those receiving Holy Communion would kneel down along the rail, the Priest moving forward and back again distributing Communion. The Communion Rail was removed as a result of changes following Vatican II.
The original Stations of the Cross were much larger than the present set, being approximately three feet by two feet. They were coloured pictures in a wooden fame depicting our Lord's journey to His Crucifixion.
A Choir Stand, three steps high, was built into the left rear comer, with the Confessional in the opposite rear corner, both have been removed to gain more space for seating, the Choir Stand during Father Keogh's term as Parish Priest, (1951-1961) he obtained extra seats from Haberfield Parish. The Confessional was replaced with the present one being built outside the original wall adjacent to the Sacristy during Father Brendan Shiel ' s time here, ( 1970-1981) The original seating in the Church consisted of three rows, two rows hard up against the side walls, with a third row up the middle, this provided two aisles. Father Shiel obtained longer seats making two rows, allowing a narrow aisle on each side and for the f1rst time, a centre aisle, this seating came from St. Ives Parish, where Father Shiel's brother, Father Peter Shiel, was Parish Priest. Riverstone's old seating was sold to Davidson Parish.
A foot-operated organ supplied the music; this was replaced with a more modem electronic organ and placed up front near the Altar. This organ was moved uom up front to midway in the church on the right side during 1998, and replaced with a larger model during the latter half of 1999.
A plaque on the left gatepost at the Garfield Road entrance to the Church grounds reads as follows:
"Erected by the Parishioners of St. John's Riverstone in grateful remembrance of the late Venerable Archpriest, Bryan McDonnell, Parish Priest from 1898 to 1924. R.I.P ."
The account for supplying and fixing grey granite plate in gate post of church, cutting and gilding 135 letters at 12/- per dozen, totalled £7.15.0 ($15.50) This account was received from and paid to Mr.G.Cook in June 1936. The Late Mrs. Olive McNamara of Riverstone Road, could remember Father McDonnel1 driving a buggy and pair from Windsor to Riverstone in 1922.
The publication of our parish history, St John’s Church Riverstone: A Hundred Years of Living Faith 1904 – 2004, can be purchased from the parish office.