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.