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St. Anthony Church celebrates 50 years of faith

WALTERBORO — The faithful of St. Anthony Church are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their building, located on South Jeffries Boulevard.

A 50th Anniversary Mass was held June 23 followed by a buffet dinner and reception in Trinity Hall, the parish fellowship building. More than 300 people attended the celebration.

The anniversary Mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker and concelebrated by Father Donald S. Abbott, who has served as pastor at St. Anthony since 2004, Fathers Victor Seidel, Paul F. X. Seitz, and Louis Murphy.

“I thought the whole thing went wonderfully,” said Father Abbott. “It was a perfect anniversary celebration that made everybody feel welcome.”

The pastor said particular care was taken to give special guests a chance to speak and also to acknowledge those who  made special contributions to the parish and the anniversary celebration.

The church building was dedicated by Bishop John J. Russell on June 30, 1957, and cost $100,000 to build. It was designed by Thomas and Hutton of Savannah, Ga., and constructed by Claude W. Blanchard of Charleston, according to historical notes distributed at the Mass.

The structure includes glass walls that allow large amounts of sunlight to stream into the sanctuary. The grounds have landscaped gardens designed by nationally-known landscape architect Robert E. Marvin, whose wife still lives in Walterboro. The gardens are surrounded by a six-foot wall  meant to convey a feeling of privacy and include a white Carrara marble statue of St. Anthony that was carved in Italy.

The anniversary Mass was organized by a 12-member special committee, which is also planning several other events in the next year, including a week-long spiritual retreat and wine-and-cheese garden party,  according to committee member Carol Ferrari.

Long-time parishioner Harry Tobin, parish council president, is in charge of the committee.

Money for the anniversary Mass and celebration was raised over a period of more than six months through donations and special events, including a fish fry and homemade Italian dinner, which attracted members of the community and raised more than $3,000. The Leals family, members of the church, also donated profits from an annual Mexican dinner held in fall 2006.

Simultaneously, a parish beautification program resulted in fresh paint for Trinity Hall and  the exterior of the rectory, new flooring in the church’s entrance hall and extensive repairs around the church and grounds in time for the June 23 event.  
“It’s amazing how dedicated all the parishioners were who worked on the celebration,” Father Abbott said. “It was a major undertaking.”

“Everybody got to visit with everybody else, and that was really the point of the whole thing,” Ferrari said.  
St. Anthony currently serves about 200 households in Walterboro and the surrounding area.

“It’s a true multicultural church made up of white Southerners who have lived here all their lives, people who have retired here from the north and Midwest, and others who have moved here because of their jobs,” Father Abbott said. He noted the membership    included African Americans, Hispanics, and immigrants from Africa and Asia. A Mass in Spanish is celebrated at 8 a.m. each Sunday.

St. Anthony’s mission church is St. James the Greater on Ritter Road in Walterboro, a traditionally African-American parish of about 90 households.

Ferrari, a member for 20 years, said St. Anthony prides itself on being an active and caring parish.

“We’re a very hospitable, welcoming group of people — I know I felt very welcomed when I first got here,” she said. “It’s a church small enough that you have a better chance of getting to know people. People ask you where you’re from. You really get a sense that people care about you.”

The first St. Anthony Church in Walterboro measured 28 feet by 40 feet and was located on Hampton Street, where it was dedicated in May 1917 by Bishop William T. Russell. At that time, it  was a station of the Summerville Catholic mission.

In later years, it became a mission of St. Peter Church, Beaufort, and was also served by priests who visited periodically by horse and buggy from Savannah, Ga., Charleston, Summerville, Yonge’s Island and Aiken.

In 1952, the parish of St. Anthony was established by Bishop Russell. Then in October 1954, seven acres of land on South Jefferies Bouelvard was purchased for the building, with the provision of sale including an agreement that the old oak trees on the property, now more than 250 years old, would never be cut down.

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