CHOKOLICH, John (Father)

FROM:  The
By Sr Frances Stibi PBVM

Father John Chokolich was born on 26 March 1917 in a little village called Sveti Stipan in Dalmatia, Croatia.

He was Croatian by birth and Austrian by citizenship as Croatia was under
Austro-Hungarian rule. His birth name was Ivan Čokolić  His parents
were Luka and Jakica.

John Chokolich arrived in Western Australia on 1 April 1924 with his uncle
Josip. He was seven years old.  His uncle Tony arrived in 1925 and his
father Luka in 1932 but he returned to Croatia, leaving young John in the
care of his uncles. When not at school, John helped in the market garden. He
left school just before he turned 14.

John loved the Mass and its ceremonies. He learned to be an altar boy at St
Brigid’s, West Perth and served the first Mass at the new St Anthony’s,
Wanneroo in December 1932.

He was confirmed by Archbishop Clune, having been prepared by the Sisters of
Mercy at West Perth. The Archbishop asked him if he had ever thought of
being a priest and he admitted that he would love to be one. He served Fr
Goody’s Mass in gagoljica (old Slavic) and was present at the opening of St
Mary’s Cathedral in 1930.

Archbishop Clune had taken him up on his desire to be a priest and arranged
for him to board and complete his education at St Malachy’s, CBC Terrace.
Just before he began his study, Fr Goody asked John why he wanted to be a

He replied that he wanted to say Mass, to lead the people in prayer, to
bless the people and to save souls and these ideals he carried with him
throughout his long life. He continued to say Mass in English, Italian,
Latin and Croatian into his old age. He spent three years at CBC. One of the
College Annuals stated that “Chocks” was outstanding in two things – Latin
and football. He represented the College at football and kicked the winning
goal in the final match against Hale in 1936.

Archbishop Prendiville arranged for John to study at Propaganda College in
Rome together with the future Cardinal, James Knox. There was a problem
though. He had no passport as he was not an Australian citizen and by law he
could not be naturalised until he was 21. He was issued with a travelling
permit by the Yugoslav Consul and this was to cause another problem in the

John loved his time in Rome studying at Propaganda College, attending Mass
in St Peter’s, witnessing the funeral of Pope Pius XI and the election of
Pope Pius XII. In later years, he was in Rome with Fr Harry Brennan at the
time of the funeral of Pope Paul VI, the election and funeral of Pope John
Paul I and the election of Pope John Paul II.

In 1939, he was reunited with his family in Croatia after 15 years but his
stay was cut short by the outbreak of World War II.

Life continued on at the College of Propaganda Fide but the streets were
filled with crowds of Fascist sympathisers cheering the speeches of
Mussolini. One day, in the company of other students, he ran an Italian army
blockade twice, calling out as he ran the famous Mussolini word “vinceremo”
(we shall win).

During the first years of the war the war sirens disturbed the air every
night and then there were German soldiers in the streets of Rome. The Villa
and part of the College Chapel were destroyed by bombing and a nun was
killed. John kept a diary during the war documenting the way it affected the
life of the students.

Because of the war, his ordination was brought forward to 22 December 1941.
No member of his family was able to attend but the Yugoslav Embassy enabled
him to send a message and a blessing to them.

Other newly ordained priests now headed for home but John was not with them
as he had no passport and was in danger of becoming a stateless person. He
remained at the College studying Canon Law and Pastoral Theology as well as
acting as Prefect of Domestics and saying Mass for them every day.

In June 1944, the Allies liberated Rome from the Germans and within days the
RAF approached the Vatican expressing their concern for the spiritual
welfare of thousands of Croatians employed by the RAF in North Africa as
well as for other Croatians and Italian prisoners of war.  Fr John Chokolich
volunteered to serve in the RAF and was soon accepted. On 17 July 1944 he
flew to Algiers to begin his new mission. He celebrated three Masses each
Sunday – one for Slavic speakers, one for POWs and one for Croatian and
Slovene partisans.

The Christmas Mass of 1944 was attended by 2,000 service men and women.

The Mass was in Latin but the sermon was preached by three priests – one in
English, one in German and Fr Chokolich preached in Croatian, Italian and

While he was in Algiers, Fr John was goalkeeper for the RAF soccer team
which won the inter-services competition two years in a row. Many programmes
were set up to assist the Italian POWs. He became very involved in the day
to day lives of all the members of his flock. And then in 1945, to his great
joy, Fr Chokolich spent his leave in the Holy Land.

Fr John began to think of remaining in the RAF but the Archbishop called him
Just before he left Europe he celebrated Mass for a hundred people in the
damaged Chapel at the Benedictine Monastery at Monte Casino where the Poles
had distinguished themselves during the fierce battle for the Mount. He
arrived in Perth on 6 June 1946.

His first appointment was as Assistant Priest to Mgr Langmead at Osborne
Park which had the jurisdiction of Wanneroo, Balcatta, North Beach,
Scarborough, Tuart Hill and Glendalough.

There were many Croatians and Italians in the area. Fr John was always
concerned for the young people in the parish and, together with Fr Albert
Lynch, he established a choir that Fr Lynch said was second only to the one
at the Cathedral.

In 1948, Fr Chokolich was transferred and became Assistant Priest to Fr
Frank Ryan at Midland with the care of Herne Hill, Mundaring and Chidlow.

Again, besides Australians, there were many Croatians and Italians in the
parish. He did a lot of visiting at that time and was the only Assistant
Priest in the diocese with a car.

During this appointment he had a brief spell as Locum tenens at Cunderdin,
returning to Midland for a few months before being appointed Parish Priest
of the new Parish of Spearwood on 18 December 1949. Spearwood looked after
Coogee, Hilton, Kwinana, Jandakot and Peel.

Many of the parishioners were of Croatian or Italian descent. At this time
his uncle Tony helped him bring out his sister, Maria, from Yugoslavia; she
became his housekeeper. In October 1957, Fr John was appointed Locum tenens
at Guildford and, in March 1958, he was appointed Parish Priest at Toodyay
which included the areas of Jennacubbine, Baker’s Hill and Wundowie.

He found the church almost in ruins and set about encouraging the
parishioners so that a new church was blessed and opened in November 1962.
Ever interested in youth, he introduced basketball and within a year had six

In 1967, after ten years at Toodyay, Fr John was appointed Parish Priest at
North Beach where he was very happy. He was in the midst of planning a new
church when he received an unexpected transfer to Highgate.

Here, he baptised and married many Italians and Croatians. Here, too, he
formed friendships with Fr F Marlow SJ, Fr Joe Parkinson and Fr John
Orzanski. He was a man able to make friendships and keep them.

It was at Highgate that Val Stevens became his housekeeper and friend. After
a heart attack and open heart surgery in 1982, he left Highgate for
Kalamunda where he spent six years.

In 1988, Fr Chokolich retired to Marangaroo and became Chaplain at Villa
Terenzio where pastoral care was provided initially by the Cabrini Sisters
and subsequently by the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate.

After a long and eventful life, Fr John wrote his Memoirs. He was proud that
he was recognised as an Honorary Pioneer of Wanneroo. He died on 3 June 2011
and is buried with Fr Albert Lynch and surrounded by his fellow priests at
Karrakatta. In the final words of his Memoir he writes his farewell – “Thank
you all and may God love you”.

By Anthony Barich

Archbishop Redmond Prendiville once said that Fr John Chokolich was the best
priest in Perth, his successor Archbishop Barry Hickey told mourners at the
Croatian-born priest’s Pontifical Requiem Mass on 9 June.

Speaking to a packed St Anthony of Padua Church in Wanneroo, from which Fr
Chokolich told the Archbishop he wanted to be buried when the prelate
visited him a few days before he died, Archbishop Hickey said the Gospel of
the day aptly described the hope the congregation had for the late priest.

The Gospel of the day described Jesus being called by the Father to bring
His people back home, saying “he who believes in Me will receive eternal
life”. Archbishop Hickey said that Fr Chokolich lived long enough to see the
Church in its good times and its bad, and love it all the same regardless.
This love for Christ and the Church gave those gathered for his Requiem Mass
hope as they prayed that Jesus receive the priest.

He said Wanneroo was also an appropriate choice for Fr Chokolich to have his
Requiem Mass as his first appointment as assistant parish priest was at
Osborne Park, which at the time extended all the way to Wanneroo.

Current Osborne Park parish priest Fr Michael Gatt said later that Fr
Chokolich was stationed in Malta for the Royal Air Force when Fr Gatt was
born there.

Fr Gatt was joined by 35 other priests, Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton and
students from both St Charle’s and Redemptoris Mater Seminaries.

Archbishop Hickey said Fr Chokolich’s death drew a significant response from
the Catholic community around the Archdiocese, with some people sending the
Archbishop old photos of the late priest.

The Archbishop also revealed that he had written a preface for another
published edition of Fr Chokolich’s autobiography, which he said will be
published despite the priest’s death and will be given to a select few.

The autobiography serves as a revealing portrait of the Archdiocese, the
Archbishop said, as Fr Chokolich spoke fondly of his many friendships with
people, including clergy.