St. Anthony Catholic Parish has a unique place in the history of Missoula dating back to 1921. That year, St. Francis Xavier was the only Catholic Church in Missoula. As the University of Montana and the population of Missoula grew, Bishop John P. Carroll realized a new Catholic parish was needed and so he sent Fr. John O’Kennedy to Missoula to pick a suitable site for an additional church.
On June 13th, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, Fr. O’Kennedy chose city block #13 bounded by Edith, Woodford, Florence and Tremont streets for the location of a new church. Ground was broken in the fall of 1921 for a combination church and school building and a large house was purchased for a rectory and chapel. Fittingly, the new Missoula Catholic church was used for the first time at Midnight Mass on Christmas. In September of 1922, St. Anthony School opened on the second floor, staffed by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1949 an addition was built onto the 1921 structure and became the new church. Later this space became a gymnasium for the school and was then turned into classrooms. The current St. Anthony’s church was completed in time to celebrate Mass on Christmas Day in 1963. The current church structure was fully completed and dedicated in 1964 containing some truly marvelous architectural features and artwork from around the world that happily found their way to Missoula. Fifty-four beautiful, sculptured, stained glass windows that were made in Chartres, France by Gabriel Loire adorn the current church. Acclaimed Missoula artist, Walter Hook, created the large, cast concrete sculptures of the 12 apostles located on the exterior of the church. Hook also designed the 14 Stations of the Cross in ceramic sculpture, as well as statues of Mary and Joseph, also in ceramics, for the interior of the church. In 1965, a famed, Walcker Organ, built in Austria was dedicated in the church. This incredible organ contains 21 stops and 1,490 pipes and is still used on special occasions taking advantage of the outstanding acoustics in the church. This beautiful combination of local, and world art and music, provide a distinct and relaxing environment adding to the vibrancy of the church services and celebration of the liturgy.
By 1970, the parish had over 2,000 families. In an effort to bring about smaller communities of faith and worship, two satellite parishes were formed and eventually became distinct from St. Anthony’s. Pope John XXIII and Holy Family parishes in Missoula, and later, Spirit of Christ in Lolo, were formed.
Eventually, St. Anthony Elementary School and Missoula’s other Catholic elementary school, St. Joseph, were combined into one elementary school – St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School, located at 503 Edith St. Today St. Anthony Parish is still pleased to have the Missoula Catholic Schools, St. Joseph School and Loyola Sacred Heart High School as it’s neighbors. The schools often celebrate Masses and other functions at St. Anthony.
To achieve a renewed sense of community, St. Anthony Church was extensively renovated in 1982 and was rededicated by Bishop Elden F. Curtiss on January 16, 1983. Today the church easily seats 350 and seating can be expanded to accommodate 650 people.
Recent improvements to the environment of the church include a full immersion baptismal font completed in 2004. Original plans for the 1982 church renovation came full circle with the completion of this baptismal font that blends perfectly with the architectural design of the church.
The church also has an inviting Eucharistic Chapel, in a private setting, surrounded by ornamental metal work gates that are open weekdays for quiet prayer and contemplation.
The dynamic parish also built a new Parish Life Center in 2003 that includes the parish business office, classrooms/meeting rooms, an elevator, social halls, restrooms with showers, and a wonderful, FDA-approved kitchen. Learn more.
The renowned artist, Rudy Autio, who created the 28 ft. high sculpture of St. Anthony of Padua in 1963 that adorns the outside of the church building, was again commissioned to create a new sculpture that embodies the story of “St. Anthony and the Fish” for the entryway of the new parish life center. Diane Rockwell McCue donated this remarkable sculpture in memory of Robert H. McCue.
The history of St. Anthony Church is as colorful and impressive as the bishops, priests, nuns, deacons, teachers, lay volunteers, and of course, the parishioners, that lovingly served and worshiped at our church. Our parish was blessed with the service of such notable presences as founding pastor, Fr. John O’Kennedy, and the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Denis Meade, who served the parish for 44 remarkable years, as well as so many other wonderful priests who contributed to the life and history of St. Anthony Parish.
As St. Anthony Parish approaches its 85th anniversary in 2006, it now serves approximately 500 families. The church is proud to be a vital and living part of the Missoula and Catholic communities’ history. St. Anthony Catholic parish has built solidly upon it’s historical base, so that the mission of the parish continues to be “a welcoming place where people with different personal experiences bring together their gifts and talents to support and care for one another and to pass on the teachings of Jesus.”