By David Sedeño
Parishioners of St. Anthony Catholic Church celebrated the parish’s 75th anniversary on Oct. 6, with 100 people filling its pews and a combined choir whose voices and instruments reverberated in the stone structure.
With an escort from the Knights of Columbus for the procession, Auxiliary Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel led the anniversary liturgy and celebrated the Mass, and the Union Choir from Holy Cross Catholic Church in South Oak Cliff, many of them former St. Anthony parishioners, came north to join in the celebration.
Bishop Deshotel thanked the parishioners for inviting him and congratulated them for their faithful witness.
“I have a special devotion to St. Anthony,” he said about the patron saint of lost articles. “I use him all the time.”
Parishioner Sandra Essex said that among the parish’s list of initiatives during its celebration year will be evangelization and engagement with neighbors, asking them to attend Mass and to join them for fellowship.
“We want them to experience what we have experienced,” said Essex, whose parents were Methodist but she always felt called to the Catholic Church.
Deacon Denis Corbin, the parish administrator, said that he is looking forward to the parish’s next 25 years.
“I don’t know how many of us are going to be around to celebrate that 100th anniversary, but certainly our young people will be and we want to encourage them to attend church regularly and be part of our faith community,” he said prior to the Mass’ closing rite.
St. Anthony, located in the Queen City area of South Dallas near Fair Park, traces its history to 1938. It was a mission church from the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, located north of Woodall Rogers Freeway and which was the diocese’s first parish with a predominant black congregation.
In the mid-1930s, Josephite Father Timothy J. Sullivan, pastor of St. Peter the Apostle, began looking to expand St. Peter’s mission to other predominately black areas of the city and he focused on the area near Fair Park.
In 1937, he paid $500 for the dismantled structure that had been the Texas Centennial Mission Church, which had been located at the State Fair of Texas for the state’s centennial celebration in 1936. For another $2,250 he bought the property for the sanctuary. After construction on the property began in early 1938, many of the white neighbors protested the construction, but building resumed after Father Sullivan talked to them.
In later years, a school was established and was run by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost, who also had a convent on the property.
Like the area that was burgeoning at the time, St. Anthony grew with it, including a vibrant school that served Catholics and non-Catholics and the order priests and women religious who devoted their lives to the parish and the community. And, like the area that surrounds the church and that has weathered many storms, St. Anthony has had its share of challenges that included a changing neighborhood demographic base; the departure of the Josephites and women religious because of shortage in their orders and the closing of the school because of falling enrollment. The school is now a neighborhood charter school.
Church membership has also dwindled over the past two decades and Sunday Mass attendance hovers at about 100. Many parishioners say, however, that it’s not the quantity of those in their ranks, but the enormous Catholic faith within them and their desire to pass it down to the youth.
Lila Bradley came to the school as a kindergarten volunteer in 1966. Her three children attended from kindergarten through the eighth grade and then went on to Bishop Dunne Catholic School. She stayed at St. Anthony for 19 years before retiring and even though she moved away from the area, she returns for Sunday Mass.
“The church is like a beacon in this area for African-Americans. It’s just a part of us,” she said. “For those of us who have stayed, we were determined to carry on as it started out and again the Holy Spirit was there with us. We have gone through a lot of turmoil, but it has worked out beautifully.”