OCONTO FALLS — St. Anthony Parish will mark 125 years on Sunday, June 13. Bishop David Ricken will be the main celebrant at the 10:30 a.m. Mass. The liturgy will serve as a kickoff for more anniversary celebrations throughout the remainder of 2021, said Fr. Greg Parent, administrator at St. Anthony and St. Patrick Parish, Stiles.
The parish was founded on Jan. 1, 1896, but the Catholic faith in Oconto Falls dates back years earlier.
According to a document written in 1946 for the 50-year history, as many as 58 Catholics made the trip to Oconto for Mass at St. Peter Church, which was built in 1857. Oconto Falls members of the congregation traveled by wagon drawn by oxen. They would leave one day and return the next.
St. Patrick Parish was formed in 1885. Fr. Charles Hogsteel, pastor in Stiles, regularly visited Oconto Falls. Fr. Charles Vanier led the effort to form St. Anthony Parish, which, at the time of its origin, served families of Irish, German, French, Dutch, Belgium and Swiss descent.
Elizabeth Caldwell donated two lots from her wheat field that bordered on Depot Street (now Cherry Street) for the building of the first St. Anthony Church. The cost of the building was $3,500. Money for the church was raised through dances and booths at the Fourth of July celebration along Main Street. George Forestal drew up plans for the church.
Bishop Sebastian Messmer dedicated the brick veneer structure on Dec. 27, 1896. Fundraising continued after it was built, through sewing societies, suppers, dances and plays.
Fr. John Bourgmeyer became the first resident pastor in 1902. He purchased the first Stations of the Cross for St. Anthony Church. His successor, Fr. Julius Looze, who was appointed in October of 1904, built the first St. Anthony School in 1913 for $7,693. Fr. Looze served at the parish through 1916.
Fr. Francis Melchiors led the building of a new school in 1934. Construction of a new school began again in 1957.
The current church was built in 1986 and dedicated by Bishop (now-Cardinal) Adam Maida. A renovation project in 2011-2012 included the installation of new seating with kneelers and new carpeting. The school building, adjoined to the church, was damaged by an arson fire in 2012 and rebuilt in 2013. The church was covered in soot, but spared of any significant damage.
Fr. Parent, who was appointed to St. Anthony Parish in August of 2020, succeeded Fr. Joel Sember, who served as pastor of the linked parishes of St. Anthony, St. Patrick and Holy Trinity, Oconto.
In July of 2020, Bishop Ricken announced his decision to reconfigure the parish linkages. St. Anthony and St. Patrick are now linked. Holy Trinity is linked with St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Sobieski.
An ice cream social will follow the 125th anniversary Mass. Fr. Parent said he hopes that parish members remember those who laid the foundation for the faith community.
“I hope that we are grateful for the fact that we have a parish where we can come to pray,” he said, “and that this parish will still be a place to worship for another 125 years.”