Graf, Johann Br. (1873-1951)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter
Birth / Death: 

born 7 March 1874, Soelb,

died 18 January 1951, Beagle Bay, age 76

Served as carpenter and goat herd at Beagle Bay mission for 49 years. His Pallottine name was Johannes de Deo Graf, and after his death the Njul Njul referred to him as Karakatta. Brother John built a Lourdes grotto at Beagle Bay and supplied it daily with fresh flowers from his garden.


This modest Bavarian adapted perfectly to the conditions at Beagle Bay mission, where he was part of the small troop of Brothers who saw the mission through two world wars without ever seeing his old home again. He received only basic education in the Volksschule (state school) at Soelb before becoming a carpenter. At age 25, he joined the German Pallottines and two years later in October 1900 he made his first three-year profession. Because he was declared medically unfit for the Cameroon mission, he joined the newly acquired Beagle Bay mission in Australia instead.


Br. Graf
Source: A0063 P5071055 Society of the
Catholic Apostolate (Australia) Archives, Rossmoyne


In June 1902 – a year early - he already requested to be accepted for his eternal commitment. His Australian Principal, Pater Georg Walter, who reluctantly supervised this mission until 1908, scarcely valued the contribution made by this brother, declaring that ‘although this good man hardly benefits the mission society, his conduct and character are such that we can hardly refuse him after five years of work’.1 Read in German ('Beagle Bay 25.6. 1902')


So in October 1903, after a months’ holiday – his only one ever - Brother John became a Pallotine for life, professing ‘poverty, chastity, obedience and complete submission to communal life’.2  Read in German ('Professformel' below)



Beagle Bay, 25. 6. 1902

Hochwürdiger Pater Superior,

Am ersten Sonntag im Oktober ist meine 3-jährige Profess zu Ende und so weit es auf mich ankommt will ich die ewige machen. Sonst geht gut. Mit der Bitte Sie möchten bis dahin die Entscheidung schicken

grüßt Sie in Liebe und Hochachtung

Br Johann Graf

NB: Obwohl der gute Mann ja kaum der Missionsgesellschaft etwas nützt, ist doch sein Betragen und Charakter ein solcher daß die Gesellschaft ihm kaum nach 5-jährigem Arbeiten die Profess verweigern kann. Ich empfehle daher seine Bitte um letzte Profess zur Annahme.

Georg Walter

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Brs.Graf, Huegel, etc in Nailon

Br. John Graf, Fr. Francis Hügel, Fr. Benedict Püsken,
Br. Henry Krallmann, Br. Josef Schüngel

Source: Sr Brigida Nailon and Fr. Francis Huegel,
This is your Place – Beagle Bay Mission,
Pallottine Centre, Broome, 1990, p. 19.


Graf worked alongside Brothers Kasparek, Wollseifer, Bachmair, Sixt, Krallmann, Traub, Labonte, and others. In 1909, when Beagle Bay mission was getting into financial trouble and was in danger of being dissolved, the brothers at Beagle Bay made a point of writing to Max Kugelmann, who had been the Provincial Director in Limburg (1894-1903) and was about to retire as the Pallottine General in Rome (1903-1909).3 They used Kugelmann’s name-day as an occasion to send their own informal reports about the mission, adding a little colour to the bland reports, and perhaps giving a more direct glimpse into the hardships and successes at the mission.


Graf, sending his heartfelt wishes, added that he couldn’t think of anything to report that ‘your most highly esteemed’ didn’t already know from the official reports. He suspected that the Principal (Fr. Bischofs) must have told Kugelmann all about the cattle and horses, and calves, not to forget the pigs and goats, and the odd kangaroo running around which might also end up in the cooking pot. ‘Only today we had a big fat scrub turkey for our midday meal.’ Perhaps a little tongue in cheek, he added, ‘and neither should the immortals be forgotten, even if they don’t number in their thousands’ – a reference to the position advocated by Walter that the Beagle Bay mission was not worth the investment compared to the number of souls reached by it. ‘If we consider how dear they are to the godly heart to which this mission is dedicated, then we can reckon it a success, after all.’4


Brother John tried to convey, without appearing to complain, something of the hardships the brothers who continued at the mission were taking on – Fr. Heinrich Rensmann5 had drowned in the Beagle Bay Creek in after only a year at the mission, Br August Sixt had been expelled, Br. ‘Wasseli’ (Raimund Wesley) had become a missionary in America, and Br. Bernhard Hoffmann had gone to Cameroon. ‘When my first profess ended in 1903 I, too, took a month’s spell. The constant backache got to me a bit.’6


Brother John was in charge of the large goat herd and the market garden, which supplied fresh fruit and vegetables to the mission with surplus sales in Broome. He supervised the straw broom making, another source of cash income, and taught many mission boys the trade of carpentry. He played a prominent part in the construction of the famous Beagle Bay church, providing all the carpentry and joinery from local timber. During World War II he was interned for a short period along with the other brothers. He was considered ‘affable and pleasant in character’ and was able to recite long passages from the Imitation of Christ.


In 1949 he was admitted to hospital, from where he returned to the mission much weakened and unable to work. Two years later he died after 49 years at the mission and just a few month after the golden jubilee of his first profession as a Pallottine.


Portrait of Br. Graf

Beagle Bay 7. 9. 1949
Source: Graf, Johann Br P.1-22 ZAPP


This is how his gifted brother Ernst Worms describes the Beagle Bay pioneer missionary:



Br Johannes Graf7


A gaunt figure with sharp face behind which lurks roguishness, friendliness and piousness. Black beard tinged with grey. Gardener, goatherd, and philosopher besides.


Not far from his hut, his own little garden fringed by the tallest coconut palms planted by the Trappists late last century -some of them felled by the almost annual cyclones. He picked out the boys to skilfully scale the palms in native fashion to throw down some ripe nuts full of sweet milk. Difficult, because from the crown they had to continue at an angle of 45°. Alongside the coconuts long rows of deep-green banana trees. The palms don’t need any care but the bananas must be well fertilised and watered. He assiduously collected the cattle manure, especially from the goats, on an antediluvian wood cart with massive timber disks as wheels, pulled by the young boys with great commotion. His garden sat across several springs, very peculiar in this dry continent. He constantly adjusted the irrigation. Next to a permanent spring he had built a small Lourdes grotto, which he daily decorated with fresh flowers. Daily for forty years – the meaning of perseverance. Often you would see him at the plough in the vegie garden, behind two gorgeous bulls, placidity itself.


Prudently he distributed the jobs among men and women, girls and boys - not a simple task due to the ancient avoidance rules of the Njul Njul. The girls had to bind the sought-after straw brooms using a primitive apparatus, which he had invented himself, for sale in the nearby town (nearby meaning 140 kilometres distant). This required the planting of sorghum (or broomcorn) the heads of which supply the straw for the brooms.


Also under his direction was the 500-strong goat herd. He determined which one was destined for the cooking pot and who of the women should milk the goats. In his magnanimity he paid little attention to how much milk was drunk straightaway and how much of it disappeared into the native homes.


He thought deeply and often. He didn’t just see how things appeared but what was behind them – a philosopher. One only had to mention the topic of laws of gravitation and he delivered his own explanation of it. When the explanations became too convoluted he would finish with a resigned smile: „well, that’s just how it is.“


Another benign office was his: a hubcap was suspended next to the door of his one-room hut. Early each morning right on time he struck it with a hammer – a gong that sounded through the still morning air to raise the sleepers from the hot tropical night. Then you would see a tall figure in white habit stride though the dew-moistened grass to Beagle Bay’s Sacred Heart church, rosary in hand. This narrow path is formed by decades of rosaries. Then in prayer he awaited the leader of devotions.


He prayed much and avidly read books of a spiritual nature, read the Imitation of Christ much loved by all our brothers. At day’s end he disappeared into the quiet forest. Beneath the eucalypts, on the edge of a glade drawing down to the bay, lay a large tree trunk: „that’s Brother John’s place“, the children told me. There he prayed in undisturbed silence.


After dinner he played cards with dexterity, the „Skat“, red beans serving as stakes. Next to him, beneath the hurricane lamp, a big white enamel washbowl full of water into which fell hundreds of insects drawn by the light – a few molesters less.


He was tough with himself - radical water cures, strong soapy water for his eyes, and such like. Undemanding, he scarcely ever uttered a wish. We never saw him make an exception, or indulge in a sleep-in even once. In these forty years, he was just always there.


Until he had to go to hospital in Perth in 1950 where he horrified the sisters with his radical habits. Soon after he had to fly to Perth again in great hurry, 2,200 km away, gangrenous hernia, I think. The doctors could do nothing for him, too late. When the sisters told him he simply answered: „is it time already? Then we must pray.“ He prayed till the end with the sisters and the few brothers from Perth and Tardun in the St John of God hospital until he closed his eyes peacefully. God will have handed the crown of an apostle to this persevering missionary who instructed two or three generations of new Christians daily for decades in Christian life in simple ways that they could understand.


Now he lies far from the Bavarian Alps, and far from the mission assigned to him by God, in a grave in the Karakatta cemetery near Perth. He is not forgotten by any of his Pallottine brethren nor any of his blacks. The blacks have even given him the name of his worldly resting place, Karakatta – from gara gadja: by the sea, the Indian Ocean.


In the sea of love, in God

quimand in caritate, in deo momet et Deus in Eo (12-12-56)



 The Grotto at Lourdes  Lourdes Grotto at Buhlertal  The Grotto at Beagle Bay by Br. Graf

The Virgin of Lourdes, a contemplative pilgrimage site reproduced by Catholics around the world.
Source: Creative Commons

The Lourdes grotto above Bühlertal, home of Regina Ganter, containing the virgin Mary and St. Bernadette, a freshwater rivulet, votive candles and donation box, seats and cushions, and many messages of thanks to 'Mary who has helped' (Maria hat geholfen).

The grotto at Beagle Bay, built by Br. Graf.
Fr. Worms wrote: Next to a permanent spring he had built a small Lourdes grotto, which he daily decorated with fresh flowers. Daily for forty years – the meaning of perseverance.

Undescribed image from Australien  - Missionsstationen Kasten 18, ZAPP





Zur gröβeren Ehre Gottes

zu Ehren der allerseligsten Jungfrau Maria, der Königin der Apostel in aller Engel und Heiligen, sowie zur gröβeren Heiligung meiner und meines Nächsten Seele, Weihe schenke und opfere ich:

Bruder Johann Graf,

mit Hilfe der göttlichen Gnade, mich und alles das meinige Gott, dem Allmächtigen, und nehme mir vor, in meinem ganzen Leben unseren Herrn und Heiland Jesus Christus nachzuahmen, gemäβ den Regeln unserer Missionskongregation und verspreche deshalb derselben Gesellschaft und ihrem jeweiligen Oberen in ihr zu verharren in Armut, Keuschheit, Gehorsam lebend, unter vollkommener Beobachtung des gemeinsamen Lebens und verspreche, daβ ich keine Würde auβ<erhalb derselben annehme, und das für ewig.

Johann Graf

P. H. Rensmann Off. PSM

Zeugen: P. Georg Walter, Br. Matth. Wollseifer

Beagle Bay, 13 Oktober 1903

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1 Graf to Kugelmann, 25. 6. 1902, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP. His eternal Profess is annotated ‘Beagle Bay 13 October 1903’, but not in Graf’s handwriting. In a letter of 1. 7. 1909 he claimed that he made his eternal profess on the Sacred Heart feast day of 1905.

2 ‘Wie da 1903 meine erste Profess zu Ende ging habe ich auch einen Monat Spel [meaning ‚spell’] genommen (Urlaub).’ Graf to Kugelmann, Beagle Bay, 1. 7. 1909, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP. Professformel, in Graf P.1-22 ZAPP.

3 Bachmair, Droste, Bringmann, Graf, and Zach wrote such congratulatory notes to Kugelmann between July and October 1909. Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

4 ‚Auch die Unsterblichen sollen nicht zu vergessen, [sic] wenn auch ihre Zahl nicht nach Tausenden zählt so hat man doch Erfolg wenn man daran denkt wie teuer sie dem göttlichen Herzen sind, dem diese Mission geweiht ist.’ Graf to Kugelmann, Beagle Bay, 1. 7. 1909, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

5 Heinrich Rensmann, born Oberhausen on the Rhine, near Cologne, drowned in the creek at Beagle Bay age 28, had been ordained 2 years and 5 years of profess. P. Wilhelm Schuetzeichel Totenbuch der Regio Australien bis 1984, N1 Nr 19 ZAPP.

6 Graf to Kugelmann, Beagle Bay, 1. 7. 1909, Australien, Nachlass Kugelmann, B7d.l (1) ZAPP.

7 Sketch by Ernst Worms, translated by Regina Ganter, handwritten MS in Worms P.1-27 ZAPP.