The History of St. Anthony of Padua Parish
The town of San Antonio was founded in 1882 by Judge Edmund Dunne. He had been hired by the Florida Land and Improvement Company, owned by Hamilton Disston, to handle legal affairs on the development of four million acres purchased from the state of Florida.
Judge Dunne was given control over the disposition of 100,000 acres of the Disston property for the purpose of establishing a Catholic colony in Florida, something about which he had dreamed for a long time. He was allowed to choose the location of this community, and chose an area of rolling hills and scenic beauty in what is now east Pasco County. The name given the new community was The Catholic Community of San Antonio, because Judge Dunne had a deep devotion to St. Anthony of Padua. Utilizing Catholic publications throughout the country, Judge Dunne promoted the settlement as a wonderful place to settle. Besides the purchase price of the land, the settlers had to produce a letter from their parish priest stating that they were Catholics and were practicing their faith. Though this regulation lasted only six years, the town is predominantly Catholic to this day.
In May of 1883, work was begun on a church for the new community. Bishop John Moore, bishop of the diocese of St. Augustine, came to dedicate the unfinished building on June 13, 1883, the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. Bishop Moore celebrated the first Mass in the new structure on January 11, 1884.
A school was started in the home of Mrs. Marie Cecile Morse, the mother of six children, in the fall of 1883. Classes were moved into the church on April 29, 1884; and in the fall of 1884, a separate 12 by 14 foot frame schoolhouse was erected next to the church with funds supplied by Bishop Moore.
Bishop Moore sent Fr. Emilius Stenzel from the Archdiocese of New York to be the first resident pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in May of 1884. Fr. John F. O'Boyle of Fernandina became the second resident pastor on December 8, 1884. Responding to complaints from the German settlers of the community, Bishop Moore contacted Archabbot Boniface Wimmer of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on February 1, 1886. The bishop asked for a bilingual priest who could minister to both the German speaking and English speaking parishioners. The archabbot accepted the bishop's invitation and several Benedictines were sent to Florida. This group of monks became the founders of St. Leo Abbey. Fr. Gerald Pilz, O.S.B., became the third pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish and the first in a long line of Benedictine pastors.
A convent of Benedictine sisters from Allegheny, Pennsylvania, was invited by Fr. Pilz and Bishop Moore to come to San Antonio. The first four sisters arrived in February 1889. They established a community which grew into Holy Name Monastery. In September of 1889, the Benedictine sisters took over the responsibilities of St. Anthony School. The current St. Anthony of Padua Church was dedicated by Bishop William Kenny of St. Augustine on March 21, 1911, and is the oldest Catholic Church building in Pasco County. The church was extended in the 1950's and remodeled in 1988.
Originally, the Saint Anthony cemetery was located where the grotto and convent are now located. In the early 1900's the graves were relocated to the current cemetery property located on Palm Avenue.
The red brick schoolhouse was built in 1922. The grotto next to the church was constructed of native rock in 1935. The current building, which was built as a rectory, was constructed in the 1960's.
Following the death of Rev. Dennis Murphy, O.S.B., in December 1995, Saint Leo Abbey was unable to supply a pastor for St. Anthony of Padua parish. Bishop Robert Lynch then appointed Rev. Dennis Hughes as pastor. Fr. Hughes, a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, arrived on March 19, 1996, to become the first non-Benedictine pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish in more than 100 years. In the fall of 1996, Fr. Hughes established a building committee to begin the process of constructing a parish center, for which the community had been saving for years. On August 29, 1998, the new parish center was dedicated. In December of 1998, St. Anthony of Padua parish purchased a house across the street to use as a priest residence. The old parish house was converted for use as offices, and then later for use as a convent.
Rev. Henry Riffle became Pastor on July 1, 2000, and was here until 2008. Under his guidance many changes and improvements to enhance the physical and spiritual needs of St. Anthony of Padua Church were made. During Fr. Henry's time, the air conditioner in the church died. We held a fund-raiser to afford a new unit. Cardboard fans were made and passed out in church. â€œBe a member of the St. Anthony FAN club!
In 2000 a 7:00 p.m. mass was added to the schedule, and in 2001 the LIFE TEEN program began.Â The LIFE TEEN band played at the 7:00 p.m. mass and allowed a more contemporary atmosphere at mass. Also in 2001 sidewalks were added to the grounds. Parishioners were offered the opportunity to purchase bricks in memory of a loved one, for a special event, or perhaps a family brick. Bricks are still available through the parish office.
Over the next several year,s we welcomed many scouting groups. In 2002 a Cub Scout troop started, in 2003 a Girl Scout Troop began, and in 2003 we sponsored Boy Scout Troop 311.
We also began a Ministry Fair in 2002 so parishioners would have the chance to see the many opportunities of service at Saint Anthony.
As numbers continued to grow, the needs grew also.Â We conducted a parish survey in 2003 to see what the parishioners wanted and needed. As a result of the survey, we started a Children's Liturgy of the Word program. We began a youth stewardship program (Make a Joyful Noise), and started a parish library/conference room.
In keeping with the growing number of parishioners, many new programs were started to allow parishioners a chance to participate fully at Saint Anthony of Padua Church. In 2002 a Middle School youth program was started. We began a stewardship program and in our call to be good stewards, offered an annual report.
In 2003, we acquired the Mother Teresa Room. Originally part of St. Anthony Church, the building was given to the school. However; due to our tremendous growth, we had the building returned to us. Currently, the building is used to house the St. Vincent de Paul Society. They use the building every Saturday to hand out food to the needy. The building is also used for Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, adult education, and numerous other groups.
In 2005 we added extra outside lighting and a sprinkler system to the physical plant. We continued discussion with the diocese on growth needs and plans for here and the surrounding areas. Our growth continued and in 2005 we began to see the need for the possibility of a larger space. We had several town hall meetings for community input and discussions. During this initial phase of discernment, we began looking at possibilities for both the current site and for a Master Site Plan on a 20 acre site purchased by the Diocese in the 1980's, located about 2 miles from our current church. Unfortunately, the economy took a turn for the worse and development in our area ceased, so there was no longer a need to pursue the building of a new church.
In 2008, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church celebrated its 125th anniversary under the leadership of Rev. Henry Riffle. A new church directory was published, and we had many celebrations including a parish picnic and a historical night filled with pictures and sounds of the past 125 years.
Fr. Edwin Palka arrived July, 2008. During his stay of seven years, the heat and air conditioning units in the church were renovated, a new organ was purchased, and the choir loft and confessionals were restored. Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth were welcomed to our school and church community. A new school building was built, and renovations began on the old building.
In 2015, Fr. Garry Welsh arrived. He currently has the task of building up our church, school, and community with his fresh and new administrative abilities.