St. Anthony of Padua Parish has a rich history which began in October, 1899, when Bishop Denis M. Bradley, first Bishop of the Diocese of Manchester, chose Fr. Denis Charles Ling to become the organizing pastor of the eighth parish in Manchester. This section of the city was referred to as Hallsville, and was growing rapidly at the time.
The first Mass was celebrated in Trudeau Hall, on Valley Street. The first collection amounted to the grand sum of $8.60! About eighty families were involved, of which two thirds were francophones. People worked together to plan for a suitable church building, and to gather funds. A chapel measuring seventy by thirty feet was constructed at 270 Belmont St. at a cost of $5,000, and the first Mass was celebrated there on Sept. 20, 1900.
On October 2, Fr. Georges Albert Guertin was named pastor and he is the one who chose St. Anthony as its patron. More land was purchased and the first rectory was built at the northwest corner of Silver and Belmont Streets. The chapel was transplanted to the southwest corner and was given a basement floor which became the church hall. This also served as the first school building when, in 1904, two Sisters of the Holy Cross came to teach the parish children. These Sisters were followed by many others in subsequent years, and they were housed in a combination convent/school built at the northeast corner of Silver and Hall Streets.
In 1907, Fr. Guertin was named Bishop of Manchester. Fr. Louis Doucet became the next pastor. He served in that capacity until 1934. It was during his tenure, in 1927, that the new brick school building was constructed. The fourth pastor, Fr. Paul Desaulniers (1934-1945), helped to accentuate the already popular devotion to St. Anthony by inaugurating the custom of praying the “thirteen Tuesdays,” which has continued to the present day.
The parish was growing by leaps and bounds. By the time it received its fifth pastor, Fr. Alfred Constant (1945-1967), the parish boasted over one thousand families. A new church was badly needed, and the cornerstone was laid in 1953. The first Mass was celebrated in the magnificent new building on June 13, 1954, the feast of St. Anthony. In 1962, the first rectory was moved and attached to the convent so that a new building could be erected on its present site.
In June, 1970, during the tenure of Msgr. Wilfrid Paradis (1967-1971), several Manchester Catholic high schools, including St. Anthony, were fused into what is now known as Trinity High School. The elementary school was also regionalized about this time. Msgr. Paradis’ brief term was followed by an even shorter experiment of team ministry (1971-1973). Then Fr. Leo Frechette became pastor until 1976.
During the tenure of Fr. Fernand Croteau (1976-1988), the Pastoral Council was re-organized, and the parish benefited from the RENEW process. The parish set as its main goal to establish a spirit of community within its fold. In 1989 Fr. Charles DesRuisseaux became pastor and helped the parish to continue to work towards this goal. The small group movement—begun with RENEW—was re-invigorated by “Disciples in Mission.” Several groups continue to gather regularly to share a common faith. The elementary school—grades K through 6—has reverted to being our parish school again.
In 1999 we celebrated our centennial as a parish. Special events were planned for each month—such as concerts, picnics, pilgrimages. The high point of the year was the Jubilee Mass celebrated by Bishop John McCormack on June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. This was followed by a banquet enjoyed by all, but which had to be held at an outside facility.
The parish was still without a hall in which events could be held. Committees were formed to study the possibility of building such a facility. Could we accomplish it? Where would it be located? Much deliberation entered into the planning. Finally the decision was made to go ahead with a campaign for funds. All sorts of committees were formed for the various phases of the undertaking. The campaign was ultimately more successful than our wildest dreams. The result was a parish Community Center which doubles as a gymnasium for the school. Also the student cafeteria was completely remodeled and a new modern kitchen was added.
Groundbreaking occurred in June, 2001. The first large function in the completed building was the Christmas Fair on Dec. 1, 2002.
Since then the parish has been able to plan all sorts of community-building events. At least once a year we offer a concert of some kind. These have been highly successful. Holy Tony’s Kitchen offered senior dinners at very reasonable prices twice a month, as well as scrumptious breakfast/brunches. Having the new facility has been a real boon to the parish as well as to the school. Sports events are regularly scheduled in the gymnasium. The St. Anthony Community Center has turned out to be a positive factor for the larger community as well.
These later years have seen parishioners becoming much more involved in many facets of parish life, thus taking their rightful places in the life of the Church. The various liturgical ministries have flourished. The music has become more varied. Liturgies have come alive. Computerization of parish data, of financial reporting, and even of minister scheduling has streamlined the work of the staff, and has enhanced their ability to keep parishioners informed of the status of their community.
On April 30, 2006, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, much to the disappointment of its parishioners, was closed, and united to St. Anthony Parish. Many of its faithful parishioners have come to enrich our parish life, as well as that of other Manchester parishes. (It is important for all to know that their records—baptismal, marriage, etc.—are stored at St. Anthony, should anyone require sacramental certificates.)