The Church of St. Anthony in Nanuet draws members from all around Rockland. All are devoted, but not everyone knows the roots of the church. Patch looked into the history of St. Anthony’s Church using information from Marie Hoose’s book Nanuet’s Heritage, a centennial publication about St. Anthony’s Church, “The Old Timers’ Notebook”(tales about St. Anthony’s Church) and interviews with Rev. Joseph J. Deponai, or Father Jerry, as he prefers to be called.
Saint Anthony's Church is a shrine church in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua. It was founded in 1898.
“Before it was even called St. Anthony’s it was the Mission Church of St Augustine,” said Deponai. This was in the late 1890’s. There were few established Catholic churches in Rockland County at that time. The Catholic community in and around Bardonia were especially vocal in requesting their own church. They eventually got one in 1898-1899.
The Beginning: 1896 - 1911
In 1896, Father M.J. Mulhern was appointed the first resident pastor of St. Paul’s in Congers. Among Father Mulhern’s duties as resident pastor was taking care of the spiritual needs of the Catholics in the Bardonia area. This Father Mulhern did, saying the Mass in private homes. In 1897, the location of the Mass had been centralized and services were said each and every Sunday in the home of Jacob Hobesil of Bardonia. Since the majority of the residents were German or of German descent, the percentage of German-speaking residents was high. However, it does not appear that Mass was celebrated in German, as no records to that effect have been found.
The year following the regular celebration of Mass at the Hobesil home, a meeting was held and the nucleus of a Church was formed. This group strove to create a church all their own, and the following year, 1899, they erected upon a stone foundation, a beautiful wooden structure. The Church was given the title of The Church of St. Anthony. The priest who was most influential in St. Anthony’s becoming a reality was the Reverend John A. Nageleisen. Father John, as the Bardonia parishioners would call him, was a zealous and hard-working priest and worked unceasingly towards the building of this small church—the wooden structure mentioned above.
Even though St. Anthony’s was now an established church, complete with a congregation and church building, it was still a “mission” church. The priests still lived in Congers and “commuted” to Bardonia on Sundays or whenever their services were needed. It was the Reverend Martin A. Grasser who was appointed to be the first resident pastor of St. Anthony’s in 1904.
A sad day came for the St. Anthony parishioners in November 1911 when their beloved Father Martin was transferred to become the pastor of St. Mary Magdalene in New York City. He was replaced by the Reverend Anthony L. Strube.
A Fire & A New Start
In the late hours of the day on August 21, 1912 the beautiful wooden structure—constructed in the honor of St. Anthony—caught fire. (That structure was roughly where Ted Shultz Ford is now, on Route 304). All that was saved was a bell called the Angelus bell, some medals and the stone foundation. The rest was a pile of ashes.
Fire had taken away the church, but not their faith. Word came shortly after the fire from the then Cardinal Farley authorizing the construction of a new church in honor of St. Anthony in the neighboring town of Nanuet on 23 acres of land donated for that purpose by Mr. and Mrs. John M. Hengstler.
Work was begun immediately on the new church, but it went slowly, and by 1916 only the rectory and the basement church had been built. Father Strube never got to see the construction of the upper church as he was transferred. Deponai said he believes that at least part of the rectory was an old farmhouse.
Father Strube was replaced as pastor of St. Anthony’s by Father Nicholas W. Hans. Father Hans was another of the tireless priests who worked their fingers to the bone for St. Anthony’s, and by 1920, the upper church was finished. A semi-dedication was then held, using the cornerstone from the original wooden church in Bardonia. Along with the church’s dedication, three bells, which today call the faithful to Mass, were dedicated…one to St Anthony, one to Our Lady of Lourdes and the third to St. Joseph. The beauty of the fieldstone church’s interior led some parishioners to label it “The Cathedral of Rockland County”.
This is the first of a 4-part article series leading up to the Annual St. Anthony’s Feast on Sunday, June 10. Check back next Tuesday for Part II
Here’s a look at what each article will look at:
- The Beginning: 1896 – 1911 and A Fire & A New Start
- A New Name & Priest and Moving Forward & a Special Mass
- Starting a School and An Expansion
- Another Fire and St. Anthony’s Today