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.