In July of 1917, the Rev. Antonio Clemente started celebrating Masses at the Ingham Avenue Mission located in a rented one-story building on Ingham near the corner of Holbrook. Since there were no living accommodations at the mission, Rev. Clemente took up residence on Hamburg, Turnpike. Sometime during that same year, a census was taken of the number of Italian families living in Lackawanna. Rev. Clemente discovered that there were 150 families.
Rev. Clemente met with a group of parishioners to decide if they should build a church. They chose to contact all Italians in the city and raised $2500. Rev. Clemente bought five lots of land on the corner of Ingham and South Avenues. He then purchased a building permit on October 13, 1917 for a “temporary one story building at the foot of Ingham.” Some of the men from the parish helped with building the new church designed to seat 300 parishioners.
That winter, the completion of the new church was completed at the cost of $12,000 ($6000 from the diocese and $6000 mortgage from the parish). On Sunday, December 16, 1917, the dedication of the Church of St. Anthony of Padua took place with a High Mass at 10:00 am. By Bishop Dennis Dougherty.
Then on December 5, 1918, the administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, Monsignor Nelson Baker, appointed the Rev. Joseph Vifredo as the next pastor of St. Anthony. He shepherded his parishioners for twenty-nine years through their numerous times of tribulations.
By the year 1946, St. Anthony had grown in numbers once again. Expanding the size of the rectory, purchasing two side altars and paying off the mortgage was done during Rev. Vifredo years of tenure.
The Holy Name Society of St. Anthony’s Parish had a slow start but became very active in the 1930’s when a number of American born men became members. They reached out to boys in the Italian community by sponsoring a Boy Scout Troop and founded a Junior Holy Name society for boys 12-17 years of age. The Holy Name Society has continued a tradition of father-and- son breakfasts.
On June 6, 1948, the Rev. Thomas Ciolino became St. Anthony’s next pastor. He brought new life to the parish, being a very dynamic person. He bought a building across the street on Ingham, for four Missionary Sisters of Mercy from Bahia, Brazil to teach religion to the parish children. Later they were replaced by Sisters of Social Service who worked also at Assumption Church, a Hungarian Parish. During the 1960’s, the nuns were also working with the Spanish Apostolate at Assumption Church in Lackawanna.
In 1947 the Rosary Society was functioning with a membership of 100 first and second generation women. Within a few years the group’s name was changed to the Rosary Altar Society. In May they organized a Mother’s Day breakfast and program at which the men of the Holy Name Society served the food.
The growth of families continued. In 1955 the enrollment at St. Anthony was 350 families. The parish then decided to build a center to hold classes and get togethers. On December 5, 1954, ground-breaking for the center took place and its completion was a year later. The center was located behind the church with a kitchen, religious instruction classrooms, a utility room and a hall which could hold the capacity of 300 people. On November 20, 1955 the dedication ceremony of the new church hall took place followed by a dinner and a dance.
On March 7, 1960, the Rev. Anthony Bilotta became the sixth pastor of St. Anthony. The parish continued to increase and the church’s population of families had grown to 450. With the growing number of families, St. Anthony was in need of a new church and rectory. The Rev. Bilotta was permitted by the bishop to build. Once again members went around Lackawanna, the neighboring areas, assessing each family for $200. Ground breaking took place on April 7, 1963 and the parishioners moved into their new facility on April 16, 1964. On June 13, two months later on the Feast of St. Anthony, the new church was dedicated by Bishop James McNulty with a second dedication on August 15 along with a banquet.
The Rev. Bilotta was a very active priest in the Lackawanna Community. He was Chaplin for the Lackawanna Police Department and was involved with the Protestant-funded Friendship House.
In March 1976, the Rev. Bilotta was replaced by the Rev. Paul Coppola followed by Rev. Frank Barone in 1981. As elderly Italians started passing away and younger Italians moved away attending other churches, the membership at St. Anthony started to decline.
The next pastor to lead the congregation at St. Anthony in January 1998 was the Rev. Peter Drilling. By now there were only 225 families in St. Anthony’s. With too many Catholic churches and not enough people in the pews, the diocese decided to merge Queen of All Saints Church into St. Anthony Church. On February 15, 1998, a final prayer service took place at Queen of All Saints Church. Then the Mass of Celebration took place merging the two parishes together with Bishop Henry Mansell as the presider for both services. The liturgy was done in a variety of languages, English, Spanish and Italian. Now St. Anthony was no longer an Italian parish but a multi-ethnic one.
The Rev. Peter Drilling left St. Anthony in January 2005 and was replaced by Rev. David Glassmire. He found that St. Anthony Parish included Italians, other European Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and African Americans.
He started a community service project “Hands Across the Bridge”. This project helped supply the necessary items for those less fortunate than we are through the Lackawanna Food Pantry. He left St. Anthony in August 2008.
In October 2008, Sister Barbara Riter was then appointed as the Pastoral Administrator. Under her guidance, St. Anthony is continuing its ministry of liturgy and outreach to the people of the 1st Ward of Lackawanna. Now you can see here the statues of several Italian saints as well as the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, reflecting the varied history of St. Anthony Parish.
Deacon David Velasquez was appointed as Pastoral Administrator in March 2015. Shortly after arrival planning began for the Centennial Anniversary of the parish. The slogan ‘Rejoicing in 100 Years of Faith & Diversity’ was chosen by parishioners. On May 21, 2017 Bishop Richard J. Malone with retired Bishop Edward U. Kmiec and several priests and deacons also participating celebrated the Centennial Mass. A formal dinner was held after the Mass. Outreach within and outside the parish continues.
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