History of St John the Baptist Woy Woy Parish
Governor Arthur Philip landed here in March 1788, looking for arable land; he found the area to be low-lying and swampy. In 1823, James Webb was granted 150 acres, where he grew vegetables and ran cattle. In 1889, after the Hawkesbury River Bridge was built and the Great Northern Railway reached the Peninsula, Woy Woy began to develop as a tourist resort. The road was built in 1923, and electricity was connected in 1929.
St John the Baptist Catholic Church was built in 1914 as a Mass Centre for Gosford Parish. Until then Mass had been celebrated in private homes or in a local hall by priests visiting on horseback from Sydney or Windsor, and then by boat from Kincumber or Gosford. The Parish of Woy Woy was established in 1946, and Dr Walter Baker was appointed first Parish Priest.
The church was also used as a school from 1922. Sisters of St Joseph, who had arrived at Kincumber as early as 1887, commuted daily from Gosford by train until a house was bought in Victoria Road in the 1930s and became a convent for three resident Sisters. The school gradually grew on the limited space around the church and presbytery, until it was rebuilt on its present site at Woy Woy South in 1979.
Mass was said in the cinema at Ettalong for twenty years, until Sacred Heart Church was opened at Umina in 1964. Mass was also celebrated for a time in St Anthony’s Church Hall at Patonga, and St Mary’s Hall at Ettalong has been used since 1967 for Housie.
The original St John the Baptist church has been closed and converted into a parish hall in memory of Dr Baker. Next to it has been erected, on one side, a new priests' residence, and on the other (facing Blackwall Road), a parish centre in memory of Ethel Cox, who gave the land on which the church was erected, with rooms dedicated to the memory of the Riley family (owners of the Ettalong cinema) and Fr John Egan (parish priest of Gosford at the time the church was built). The centre is used by Mary Mac's, a parish organisation that provides free meals to the hungry. Meanwhile, a new church and parish office have been built on the opposite side of the road (where the old presbytery and parish office used to be); it was opened on 18th November 2007.