The following history is taken from the booklet presented at the rededication of St. John the Baptist Church, February 1995. Fr. Timothy Farrell was the pastor at the time.
In 1871, about 30 families settled about 12 miles north of St. Johns, Arizona, at Rock Crossing. In 1872, Father Juan Brun began providing Mass for the people of the area. He visited them about once a year on his travels through the vast parish which was centered at Seboyeta, stopping at Zuni. The people of St. Johns brought their children to him at Zuni to be baptized.
In 1874, the settlement moved to the present location and was named San Juan. This name was later changed – in the 1890s – to St. Johns.
In 1880, Father Pedro Maria Badilla was appointed by Bishop John Baptist Salpointe of Tucson, and arrived to take up residency in St. Johns. Father Badilla, a native of Costa Rica, walked most of the way from Tucson through the barren wilderness with few roads and fewer means of travel. It took him more than two weeks, together with a family whom he had finally joined along the way, to arrive at Holbrook.
From there, Senor Don Sarafin Apodaca assisted him to arrive at St. Johns about dark on August 2, 1880. The entire Spanish Community met him on the outskirts of the village with great joy and gratitude.
Father Badilla immediately established a combination school-church in a private home. He found the people had begun construction on a church which the community had begun some years earlier but had stopped building due to a shortage of funds. Father Badilla worked with his parishioners to finish the project and by 1884 the first Roman Catholic parish church was built in St. Johns. It was also the ﬁrst Catholic Church in Apache County.
He dedicated the church in honor of San Juan Bautista in honor of Bishop John Baptist Salpointe, the Vicar Apostolic of Arizona from 1868 to 1884.
This adobe church served the people of the area for over 40 years. After this church was built, Father Badilla had pews made which were rented to the parishioners for three dollars a year.
Father Pedro Maria Badilla, the first pastor of St. John’s Catholic Church, arrived in 1880 and served as pastor until his death in 1901. Father Badilla is buried beside the church and in front of the rectory in the area where the original church stood. His grave is marked to memorialize this true pioneer of the Arizona Territory. Father Badilla was a native of Costa Rica and was sent by Bishop John Baptist Salpointe to establish St. John the Baptist Parish in 1880. He also ministered to the people in Springerville and Concho during his years here.
Father Badilla died in Concho, Arizona, on May 3, 1901, after a long illness, but before he died, he had written a letter outlining exactly how he was to be buried and his request was honored. Father Badilla was interred in the Choir area of the St. John the Baptist Church in a wooden cofﬁn without any decorations and a wooden block for a pillow, dressed in a black garment.
A priest from Flagstaff, Father Cyprian Vabre, would minister to the parish about once a month until 1904 when Father Francis Derichemont, arrived to take over full—time pastoral duties. He stayed in the parish the longest of any priest – years.
Father Derichemont sent the Bureau of Census a report in 1904 which gave the seating capacity (collectively for all Masses) at 350. The value of the church property at that time was estimated at $1,700 with no debt. The value of the parsonage was $300. The language spoken in the parish was Spanish.
He said the priests salary was made out chieﬂy in voluntary contributions and amounted to $500 a year.
Father Badilla and his parishioners built this original church in 1881. This old church, after the present structure was built. was used for years as the parish hall and was torri down ﬁnally in the 1970’s. Father Badilla, the ﬁrst pastor, was buried in the choir area of the original church, and his grave is prominent in the front yard of the present church to this day.
The parish had 140 families on the books.
Father Vincent Pons was pastor for one year after Father Derichemont. Then Father Luis Fernandez was assigned to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church for 17 years. In 1937 and 1938, the parish found the old church inadequate for its needs, so a new church was erected. The church was dedicated on June 21, 1942, by Bishop Bernard Espelage, OFM, the ﬁrst bishop of the Diocese of Gallup.
Father Fernandez left the parish in 1943 due to poor health and died later in Texas. In 1943, Fr. Eugene F. McCarthy, the first priest ordained for the new Diocese of Gallup, was assigned to the parish and was the pastor until 1947.
For several months after Father McCarthy was transferred, the parish was cared for by the Franciscans. In early 1948, Father Charles A. O’Hern became the new pastor. He built the present rectory – in 1952 and 1953 – which replaced the ancient four-room priest’s house attached to the old church. The old church at this time being used as a parish hall until it was demolished in later years. The grave of Father Badllla is now in the front yard of the church and rectory. A marker was erected to commemorate one of Arizona Territory’s foremost pioneers.
Since 1992, when the parish received a bulk of the Barth estate, a large section of monies from the Barth Family, the St. John’s Catholic Cemetery has been totally renovated with a new fence and the planting of 80 cottonwood trees; the convent has been renovated; the parking lot next to the rectory was bought and limestoned; the Barth Hall (Parish Hall)was completely renovated inside and a new roof has just been put on as a part of the overall renovations of the church property.
Finally, and most importantly, after consulting with the parishioners, the church building – first built in 1937 and 1938—was renovated and enlarged in the Fall and Winter of 1994. All the new stained-glass windows were donated by the parishioners as well as the altar, lectern and vigil-light stand. The architect for the project was Rick Bennett of Albuquerque and the contractors were Cattaneo Construction of Gallup and North South Construction of Flagstaff, Arizona.
The parishioners wished to preserve the old church but also to enlarge it for future growth. These renovation projects were under the direction of Father Tim Farrell and the parish building committee: Ben Chavez, Dan Korzec, Mary Chavez and Sonny Pena. The pastor and the building committee coordinated the entire project with the Parish Pastoral Council and held a parish meeting with all people of the parish invited to discuss possible plans and wishes of the people. After this meeting, the architect put together the design which was approved by the building committee and Pastoral Council, then by Bishop Donald E. Pelotte, ordinary of the Diocese of Gallup, and the Diocesan Building Committee.
The newly refurbished and enlarged Parish Church will hold approximately 300 parishioners and contains a new confessional, cry room, and storage room. It also has a new sacristy and vesting room.
Also contained in the building will be a baptistry containing the statue of St. John the Baptist. All the statues have been renovated during this whole process. The statues of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel are in the sanctuary and the statues of Our Blessed Mother and St. Theresa are in the vestibule. The Infant of Prague is near the side door in the new section of the church.
The old choir loft has been converted into overﬂow seating while a new choir area is situated off the altar and sanctuary. A new tabernacle has been donated to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and is built into the area behind the altar.
Father Farrell, the pastor at the time of the renovation, said of the project, “I am so thankful to the Barth Family for their generosity to this parish. Without their having left this Trust Fund, I doubt if this project could ever be done as we had wished it. I think the people of this parish spoke from hearts filled with their Roman Catholic Faith when they wished to preserve this old building and to give it new life. It can now continue to serve this Faith Community for many, many years to come. I am so grateful to Almighty God and to Bishop Pelotte for allowing me to serve as pastor during this wonderful, hopeful time in St. John the Baptist Parish.”
This history is taken from the Diocesan archives, written by unknown parishioners:
HISTORY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST CATHOLIC CHURCH
In the year 1870-74 the Town of St. Johns was settled by Spanish Pioneers that came from New Mexico. It was on the east band of the Colorado Chiquito and was first called El Vadito, later it was named in honor of Senora Dona Maria San Juan, the widow of one of the founders of the village, Don Marcos Baca.
By the beginning of 1880 the village felt the need of a regular Priest. While there had been occasional missionary priests in the years before, they applied to the most Reverend Bishop John Baptist Salpointe for parish status and a resident pastor.
Bishop Salpointe was able to appoint Reverend Pedro Maria Badilla, a native of Costa Rica, who was then in Tucson seeking such an appointment from the Bishop. Father Badilla walked most of the way through the large barren wilderness with few roads and fewer means of travel. ‘It took him more than two weeks, together with a family whom he had joined forces, to arrive at Holbrook.
From there Senor Don Sarafin Apodaca assisted him to arrive in St. Johns about 7:00 P.M. on August 2, 1880. The entire Spanish Community met him on the outskirts of the village with great joy and gratitude.
Father Badilla immediately established a combination school and church in a private home. He found under construction a parish church which the community had begun some years earlier but had stopped due to a shortage of funds. Father Badilla then took it in his hands and worked hard with the help of his parishoners and by 1884 the first Catholic Parish Church was built in St. Johns which was also the first church in the County of Apache. This was done with Father Badilla’s private fortune and by the year 1884 the church was finished.
It is the St. Johns the Baptist Catholic Church dedicated and named in honor of Bishop John Baptist Salpoint, Vicar Apostolic of Arizona 1868-1884. It was the Vicariate of Arizona with the seat in Tucson.
While there had been occasional ministrations in the years before Father Badilla, the first entry in the baptismal register for 1880, lists the baptism of Ignacio Leyba, born on July 31st and baptized on August 6, 1880, four days after Father Badilla’s arrival.
After the church was built Father Badilla had pews made which were rented to the parishioners for three dollars a year. The revenue was donated to the Diocese. Father Badilla died in Concho, Arizona on May 3, 1901 after a long illness, but before he died he had written a strange letter outlining exactly how he was to be buried and his request was honored by Father Ciprian Vabre, the pastor of Flagstaff. Father Badilla was interred in the Choir of the Parish of St. Johns in a wooden coffin without any decorations and a wooden block for a pillow, dressed in a black garment.
Father Ciprian Vabre was appointed the next parish priest who was in the parish until 1904.
Father Francis Deriechemont was the priest who came in 1904, he stayed in the parish of St. Johns for 21 years, the longest in the history of the parish. Father Deriechemont is one of the first priest’s who is remembered mostly by the people of St. Johns. In 1904 Father Deriechemont sent the Bureau of Census of the church which said to be the seating capacity of 350 (collectively) value of church property was $1,700.00 with no amount of debt. Value of parsonage was $300.00 and the language was Spanish.
The priest’s salary was made out chiefly of voluntary contributions with the amount of $500.00 a year. Members were some 140 families. After Father Deriechemont came Father Vincent Pon who was a pastor for one year.
In 1926 Father Luis Fernandez was assigned to St. Johns. He was in the parish for 17 years. The parish continued in its serene way until the old church became too small and inadequate for the needs of the parish. In 1937 and 1938 the present church was built under the direction of Father Luis Fernandez and the help of all the parishioners. The church was dedicated June 21, 1942 by Bishop Bernard Espelage, OFM, the new Bishop of the Gallup Diocese.
In 1943 Father Fernandez left the parish due to ill health. He went to Texas where he died. The people in St. Johns who knew him and like him well were very saddened to hear of his death.
In 1943 Father Eugene F. McCarthy was assigned to the parish and was the priest until 1947.
In 1948 Father O‘Hern came to the St. Johns parish and built a new Rectory (built in 1952 & 1953) which replaced the ancient four room priests’ house attached to the old church. The old church was being used as a parish hall until it was demolished in later years. The tomb of Father Badilla is now on the front yard of the church and rectory. A marker is erected to commemorate one of the Arizona Territory’s foremost pioneers.
After all these years the church of St. Johns, which was Spanish-American predominantly, received its first and only Spanish-American priest.
Father Alfred Tachias came in 1964. He started working hard on making funds for the new hall which have gone pretty good so far. Father Tachias also started teaching catechism, first grade to high school children, which he taught himself with the help of the sisters and the lay people.
When Father Tachias left St. Johns to go to Rome, Father William C. Brezzler was parish priest for one year, 1972 to 1973.
In 1973 the people of St. Johns welcomed Father Lawrence J. O’Keefe. He worked hard in making the church and grounds look more attractive. Father O’Keefe’s first project was to throw the old church building down. He had the front of the church masoned, had a new fence put on and also planted lawn on the church grounds.
Father Alberto Avella was pastor from 1986 until 1988. Father Tim Farrell became pastor in 1992 before being assigned to Farmington some years later.