Filed Under Architecture

St. Anthony of Padua Church

New Bedford was a city of smokestacks. The coal-fired boilers that powered the textile mills left a layer of gritty soot that seemed to cover everything. This legacy of industrialization is still visible on the darkened redstone exterior of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, which has served the North End’s French Canadian and immigrant populations since 1912.

By 1900, first- and second-generation immigrants made up 70% of New Bedford’s population, and 33% of the city’s foreign-born residents were French Canadian. In 1912 alone, more than 12,241 French Canadian immigrants moved to New Bedford, helping to swell the city’s population to more than 96,000 people. In the late 19th century, most French-speaking Catholics attended Sacred Heart Church, a considerable distance from the North End where many French Canadians worked in textile mills and lived in three-decker tenements.

In 1895, the newly-formed parish of St. Anthony of Padua met in North Union Hall, a block away from the current location of the church. The following year, the parish built a new wood-frame church, a three-story brick rectory, and a grammar school, followed two years later by a convent to house the school’s ordained teachers. Simultaneously, the parish began to raise funds for a substantial stone cathedral, and construction began in 1903.

On the afternoon of September 20, 1904, a loud rumble and cloud of dust filled the air at the building site.  A fifty-foot high masonry wall had collapsed, killing two workers, Gilbert Tremblay and Joseph Rondeau, and injuring five others. The architect, Joseph Venne of Montreal, arrived two days later to inspect the damage, but was unable to determine a cause of the failure. Construction continued under the supervision of Fall River architect and French Canadian immigrant Louis G. Destremps, and the church was dedicated in November 1912.

When parishioners passed through the massive front doors, they left behind the soot of the city and entered a sanctuary of divine beauty. 5,500 electric light bulbs—still a novelty in 1912—illuminated a 65-foot high vaulted ceiling. The rows of pews could accommodate 1,840 worshippers, watched over by thirty-two sculpted angels by Italian artist Giovanni Castagnoli. The Great Vision of Saint Anthony, a grouping of sculptures by Castagnoli, soars sixty feet behind the main altar, and 117 stained glass windows surround worshippers, including a triptych window of 370 square feet. Outside, the main steeple rises 256 feet and is visible from most parts of the city.

Reflecting the demographics of its parishioners, St. Anthony’s first three pastors were born in Quebec, and the first six were of French Canadian descent. Today, St. Anthony’s offers a weekly mass in Spanish, serving its parishioners from Central America, the most recent group of immigrants seeking a better life in New Bedford.

Video

An Inside Look at St. Anthony’s with the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra Source:
TheNBSO. An Inside Look at St. Anthony’s with the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F97F53Ugsko.
Date: 2010

Images

Black and White photo of the Interior of St. Anthony's In this photograph of the interior of St. Anthony’s, Giovanni Castagnoli’s carved angels appear above the columns and the Great Vision of Saint Anthony is visible behind the altar. Source:
“St. Anthony’s Church, New Bedford.” Accessed April 13, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:8s45qk63c.
Date: Ca. 1907
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of New Bedford, 1906 (detail) This plate from the 1906 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the church still under construction. The convent and school had been completed, but the parish replaced both in 1923 with larger buildings. Source:
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts.” Image. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn03803_003/.
Date: 1906
New Bedford Smokestacks Smoke fills the air from textile mills in the South End around 1915. This picture was taken from a rooftop in the middle of downtown. The building that housed A. E. Coffin Press still stands at 508 Pleasant Street. Source:
“Bird’s Eye View of Commercial Rooftops, New Bedford.” Accessed March 16, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:6h440v282.
Date: Ca. 1915
Southeast corner of Acushnet Avenue and Bullard Street before construction of St. Anthony's Church This photograph shows the site of the future St. Anthony’s church around 1900. At left is the parish rectory; at right is the original wood-frame church. One source refers to the building in the middle as a barn, but it likely was part of the estate of Daniel Ricketson, Woodlee, which was torn down not long after this picture was taken. Source:
“Before St. Anthony’s Was Built.” Accessed February 2, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:mk61tb77c.
Date: Ca. 1900
Daniel Ricketson's Estate, Woodle Daniel Ricketson and his family lived at this estate, Woodlee, on the future location of St. Anthony’s from 1844 to 1853, when they moved further north to a house at Brooklawn. Source:
“Woodlee (Daniel Ricketson House), New Bedford.” Accessed April 4, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:rr1731380.
Date: Ca. 1895
1910 graduating class of St. Anthony’s School The 1910 graduating class of St. Anthony’s School included nine girls and eight boys. Source:
“Graduating Class at Saint Anthony School, New Bedford, MA.” Accessed April 13, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:g158bx80d.
Date: 1910
Postcard View of St. Anthony's St. Anthony’s rises above Acushnet Avenue in the North End. Date: Ca. 1940
Nye Street with St. Anthony's in the background Three deckers line Nye Street with the steeple of St. Anthony’s in the background. Source:
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. “A Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts.” Image. Accessed March 17, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/resource/fsa.8c04360/.
Creator: Jack Delano Date: 1941

Location

1359 Acushnet Ave., New Bedford, Ma

Metadata

Ron M. Potvin, “St. Anthony of Padua Church,” Rhode Tour, accessed February 7, 2023, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/77.