The parish of St. Anthony of Padua derives its name from its location near St. Anthony

Falls on the Mississippi River adjacent to downtown Minneapolis.  St. Anthony Falls was named by a Belgian missionary priest, Fr. Louis Hennepin in 1680, who gave the falls that name in honor of the devotion he had to St. Anthony of Padua.



The settlement at St. Anthony Falls was cared for from the parish of St. Peter’s in Mendota where the steam boats landed below where the river began to be un-navigable.  The early settlers were largely French speaking trappers and Native Americans.  At that time this area was part of the diocese of Dubuque in Iowa.  In 1849, Fr. Augustine Ravoux, pastor at St. Peter’s with responsibility for Catholics around St. Anthony Falls, built a mission church in St. Anthony on land donated by Pierre Bottineau a French voyageur and guide and it was named for St. Anthony of Padua.  The first church would not be completed until July of 1851 due to difficulty in raising the funds needed for its construction.  Thus began the history of this parish, first built as a mission station served by the French missionary priests stationed in Mendota.


In 1851 the diocese of St. Paul was created and Bishop Cretin arrived as its first bishop.  He appointed Fr. Denis Ledon as the first resident pastor of the growing parish of St. Anthony and charged him to build a school in the parish.  In November of 1853 the Sisters of St. Joseph opened St. Mary’s Convent school in the parish.  In 1855, Fr. Ledon was assigned to the Cathedral in St. Paul and an Irish priest, Fr. John Fayolle came to St. Anthony’s.  The growing German immigrant community separated from St. Anthony’s and formed their own parish of St. Boniface just a short distance away, in 1857.  The next pastor, Fr. Felix Tissot finished a larger stone church, in which we presently worship, in 1868.  At that time a new stone school building was built as well.  In 1877, the French speaking parishioners purchased the Universalist Church on Prince Street and the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes was established.


St. Anthony’s became a predominantly Irish parish as other immigrant groups grew and established their own parishes.  St. Anthony’s takes the moniker of “The Mother Church of the Lakes” because it is not only the oldest Catholic church in Minneapolis, but she is also the mother church for several other parishes that grew from her as members of other ethnic groups that settled near St. Anthony Falls became numerous enough to leave St. Anthony’s and establish their own parishes with a focus on their own distinct cultures.


In the 1880’s and 90’s the parish grew and brick buildings replaced the wooden structures on the campus.  A high school was added to the parish school in the 1880’s.  It was coeducational at first, with the opening of De La Salle High School for boys on Nicollete Island in 1900, it became girls only.  The old wooden buildings were sold to Holy Cross to serve as their first church.  In 1898 two brick towers were added to the front of the stone church.  Fr. Wilbee completed work on a new rectory to house the priests assigned to St. Anthony’s and a new school building, around 1916.

Fr. Francis Lang became pastor of St. Anthony in December 1945.  After decades of heavy use, the church and school buildings were in need of major work following WWII.  In May 1947, Fr. Francis Lang undertook a heavy renovation of the church and added to the school.  At that time the wooden high altar and side altars were removed and replaced by modern blond oak altars still in place.  A wrought iron communion rail was installed.  A magnificent crucifix was hung before a red and gold damask dossal drape in the sanctuary.  Outside, the twin towers were removed and a new façade of New Bedford stone was installed, bringing the church back more nearly to its original appearance.  A new belfry was planned but never completed.  The project was completed in the summer of 1948.  The picture below shows the boundary between the old church walls and the new 1948 façade.



Also as a part of the renovation project, the shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was dedicated on the church grounds alongside of the church in September of 1947.  The shrine still stands and remains a part of the devotion of the people in the area with visitors coming to the shrine at all hours of the day and evening to pray.




Fr. John Brown, pastor from 1964-66 would remodel the sanctuary to accommodate the changes following the Second Vatican Council.



In 1960 the final addition to the school was completed to meet the needs of the post-war baby boom.  It would be in use for less than ten years.  In 1969 the parish elementary school was consolidated into the Northeast Regional School which comprised all the Catholic Parish schools in Northeast Minneapolis.  The present Pope John Paul II Catholic School, located on the campus of Holy Cross parish, is the continuation of that consolidation today with a new name.  The St. Anthony high school for girls closed in 1971, at which time De La Salle high school went coed.


It was recognized that the St. Anthony neighborhood was an older neighborhood of close families.  It would be difficult for elders in the community to go elsewhere for health care.  In January 1980, Catholic Eldercare was incorporated.  Fr. William Hough, pastor from 1974-1991, arranged leasing of the school land to Catholic Eldercare for construction of a full service senior housing and nursing care complex.  In 1982-3, parts of the old schools which had closed where torn down and other parts incorporated into the new Catholic Eldercare complex which opened in August of 1983.



Changes were made in the church to accommodate the needs of the eldercare residents, such as removing pews in the front of the church to make room for wheel chairs and creating an indoor wheelchair accessible connection between the church and the Catholic Eldercare campus.



As St. Anthony of Padua parish moves into the 21st century it faces the challenges of changing demographics which all inner-city parishes encounter.




It does so with a proud history and with a determination to adapt itself to serve the needs of today’s Catholic people just as it has over the last more than 150 years since 1849.  With the help of our parish patron saint, Saint Anthony of Padua, we will continue to be the “Mother Church of the Lakes” for years to come.