The church building of St. Anthony of Padua Parish has served the Catholic com­munity in Hillsdale County for 128 years. At the time of its com­pletion it was the second largest church in the county behind Manning Street’s College Baptist Church.

One of Hills­dale’s many places of worship, dating from the 19th century, St. Anthony’s is dis­tinctive for its Neo-Gothic style.

Throughout the Renais­sance and Baroque periods, the Gothic art form was dis­paraged for its per­ceived crudeness and bar­barism.

By the late 1700s, however, a revival of interest in the medieval era led to a flow­ering of Neo-Gothic archi­tecture in Britain. Gothic Revival archi­tecture began in 18th century Britain withthe con­struction of Inveraray Castle in 1746.

The style soon spread throughout Europe and the Colonies. When St. Anthony’s was built Gothic revival archi­tecture was at the peak of its pop­u­larity.

The emer­gence of the revival stemmed from a dra­matic rise in medieval nos­talgia and, in some cases, a rebirth of “High Church” ideals. An 1891 art column in Hillsdale Col­lege’s first news­paper, the Hillsdale Herald, expresses this sen­timent.

“Our churches are nec­es­sarily con­ser­v­ative, since even if the pastor has pro­gressive ideas the leaders of his con­gre­gation are liable to be elderly and averse to new depar­tures. But art is grad­ually winning back the ascen­dancy she once for­feited when she fell during the rev­o­lution against eccle­si­as­tical tyranny before and after­Luther. Our Catholic Churches patronize French, Belgian, or Italian art, but espe­cially does the Epis­co­palian sect among the Protes­tants offer channels to our own artists for the expression of their talents.”

In 2003 St. Anthony’s com­piled a directory chron­i­cling the history of the com­munity. The directory dates the origins of Catholicism in Hillsdale county to the 1840s when Irish railroad workers settled on local farms. Fr. Joseph Kindens, a mis­sionary from Adrian, orga­nized St. Anthony’s parish in 1852.At the time there were only 85 members.

Rose Stommel, a book­keeper at the Parish office, has long been familiar with the church’s begin­nings.

“Before the existing building was con­structed the parish used an old Pres­by­terian church on the current site,” she said.

As the parish grew it soon became apparent a new building was needed. The con­struction of a new church was the primary goal of 23-year-old Fr. Peter Slane, the parish’s ener­getic new priest.

The church’s cor­ner­stone was laid on Aug. 30, 1883, with work pro­gressing quickly under con­tractors W.H. Myers and Son, also builders of the county jail. Parish­ioner P. Riley donated most the stone used in the con­struction.

The Hillsdale Herald writes of the church’s con­struction in an issue dated Dec. 6, 1883. “The new Catholic church is enclosed and being pushed toward com­pletion.”

The church, com­plete with spire, was ded­i­cated by Bishop Casper Borgess on June 15, 1884.

The church’s tra­di­tional style attracts many first time vis­itors.

“It has a nice tra­di­tion­alfeel,” sophomore Gwydion Angell said.

St. Anthony’s was listed by the National Parks Service on the National Reg­ister of His­toric Places on April 20, 1989. NPS’s website, however, con­tains almost no infor­mation on the building besides its con­struction date and location.

“We haven’t any infor­mation on who designed the Church,” Stommel said.

Though the archi­tect’s name is unknown the result of his work is appre­ciated every week by local parish­ioners.

“It is beau­tiful. I feel good when I walk by it,” Angell said.

The church’s spire has stood for decades before the birth of most Hillsdale res­i­dents and will likely stand years after their death. St. Anthony’s brick facade has become inter­twined with the scenery of Hillsdale. Its location downtown makes it a central part of daily life in this small town.