Saint Anthony's Church Archives [1902-2014]
For over two decades beginning in the 1870s, when Portuguese immigration to Lowell began to rise, most of the city’s Portuguese Catholics worshipped at St. Peter’s Church, a largely Irish and Irish-American parish. By the late 1890s the pastor of St. Peter’s arranged for Rev. Antonio J. Pimentel, of Boston and originally from Terceira in the Azores, to hold services for the Portuguese in a hall across the street from the church. With the Portuguese population approaching 1,000, a number of influential community members, notably Manuel P. Mello (1867-1938), from Graciosa, sought to establish their own parish. Rev. John Joseph Williams, Archbishop of Boston, supported this effort. Aided by Rev. Pimentel, Mello formed a committee, and, in 1900, began raising money for a church. One year later the committee had collected sufficient funds to purchase the abandoned Primitive Methodist Church, a wood-frame building on Gorham Street, built thirty years earlier. Dedicated on May 19, 1901, St. Anthony’s Church opened with Rev. Manuel C. Terra, the well-known pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Provincetown, celebrating the first High Mass with several hundred parishioners in attendance.
In early 1902, Archbishop Williams appointed Joaquim V. Rosa as pastor at St. Anthony’s. Born on the island of Pico, Joaquim Vieira da Rosa (1872-1964) immigrated to the United States in 1896 and for several years he assisted the pastor at St. John’s Church in New Bedford. Rev. Rosa celebrated his first Mass at St. Anthony’s in January, 1902.
Soon after taking charge of St. Anthony’s, Rev. Rosa established or supported the creation of a number of parish organizations. This included the long-lived Holy Rosary Sodality and the Holy Ghost Society. In addition to his clerical duties, he also led numerous fund-raising programs. Father Rosa also ministered to Lawrence’s Portuguese and helped found that city’s Portuguese Catholic Church.
In 1904, Archbishop Williams assigned Rev. Paul L. Despouy to assist Father Rosa at St. Anthony’s and to lead in establishing a Portuguese parish in Lawrence. At the same time Lowell’s growing number of Portuguese parishioners strained the capacity of the old wooden structure on Gorham Street and the search for a new church began. Once again, Manuel P. Mello played a major role in raising funds. Within two years, he and other parishioners had collected enough money to acquire land on Central Street across from the Lyon Street public school.
With the purchase of property, Boston-based architect Timothy Edward Sheehan (1866-1933), designer of a number churches for the Archdiocese, executed the design of the new St. Anthony’s. On Thanksgiving Day, 1907, Archbishop William O’Connell presided over the dedication of the laying of the cornerstone.
In 1908, with construction funds fully expended, only the granite walls and the floor of the basement were completed, and a flat roof was installed over the largely subterranean structure. Nevertheless, in May Father Rosa then celebrated the first Solemn High Mass. Joining him was Father Pimentel, who now led St. Anthony’s parish in Cambridge, Father Despouy, from his mission in Lawrence, and Rev. Manuel C. Terra of Provincetown. Although the rectory next to the church was finished and occupied by Father Rosa in 1908, funds to complete the construction of the highly ornate Mission-style church, following the original architectural design, remained insufficient. For the next 50 years, services continued to be held in the basement structure.
In 1911 Rev. Rosa, suffering from poor health and fatigue, due in part to his strenuous duties in leading his parishioners, resigned his pastorate and returned to his native Pico. In an action that proved especially fortuitous for the parish Archbishop O’Connell appointed Bishop Henrique Jose Reed da Silva (1854-1930) to lead St. Anthony’s. Bishop da Silva’s life prior to his arrival in Lowell was quite unique.
Born in Lisbon, where he was educated and ordained a priest in 1879, the charismatic Bishop da Silva, fluent in several languages and a sacred music scholar who possessed a fine musical voice, quickly caught the attention of the Bishop of Portalegre, José Maria da Silva Ferrão de Carvalho Mártens. In 1884, shortly after turning 30, Rev. da Silva was appointed the prelate of Mozambique and moved to Maputo. Upon his ordination as a bishop, he assumed control of the Maputo archdiocese. Three years later Bishop da Silva took charge of the Diocese of São Tomé of Meliapore in southern India.
During the bishop’s mission, the assassination of Portugal’s King Carlos and his son, followed by the Republican revolution in 1910, resulted in Bishop da Silva becoming an expatriate. By 1911 he returned to Boston from California and accepted Archbishop O’Connell’s offer to serve as pastor at St. Anthony’s.
In 1916 the bishop was joined by an assistant pastor, Rev. John S. Perry from St. Peter’s Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Father Perry, of Azorean parentage and born in Rhode Island in 1874, quickly formed a close working relationship with the bishop. Although in good health at age 62, Bishop da Silva relied heavily on Rev. Perry for regular sacramental duties and to lead the church during his frequent absences due to his duties on behalf of Cardinal O’Connell.
In 1924, after being away from his native Portugal for nearly 18 years, and having reached the age of 70, Bishop da Silva quietly decided to retire from St. Anthony’s, return home, and live the remainder of his days in his beloved Lisbon. In his place, Cardinal O’Connell named Rev. Joseph T. Grillo (1885-1948) as pastor of St. Anthony’s. Born on the island of São Miguel Father Grillo immigrated to the United States in 1899, settling in Hudson, Massachusetts.
Under Rev. Grillo’s leadership, several affiliated organizations were revitalized. This included the Vincent de Paul Society, the Holy Name Society, and the Holy Rosary and Young Ladies sodalities. He undertook the first significant renovation of the church, overseeing the installation of a terrazzo floor, a new brighter sanctuary, complete with new statuary. Father Grillo also re-established the annual day-long picnic for parishioners and their families. In addition, he promoted various church-sponsored athletic programs and teams ranging from soccer, baseball, and basketball to track and field, along with a fife and drum corps. He also intensified various fund raising initiatives including the popular penny sales.
Throughout much of his pastorate, Father Grillo had no assistant pastor except for one year in the early 1930s when Rev. Theophilo Pedro Damiao de Oliveira, from São Miguel served in this role. Finally, in early 1937, in recognition of his devotion and many contributions to St. Anthony’s parish, Rev. Grillo was named permanent pastor by Cardinal O’Connell. During the Second World War, Father Grillo was among Lowell’s leading clergymen heading the War Fund Drive. He was also instrumental in establishing a memorial in 1943 for Private Charles Perry (Carlos Pereira), who was killed in North Africa the previous year and was the first Portuguese-American serviceman from Lowell to give his life for the nation.
In the years after World War II, Father Grillo suffered from poor health that resulted in lengthy hospital stays. In his absence, priests at St. Peter’s, who were Irish-American and spoke no Portuguese, filled in for him. Likely aware of the language difficulties this presented to his parishioners, Father Grillo contacted Bishop Giuseppe Alves Matoso of Guarda, Portugal, and requested that he send priests to New England. The Boston Archdiocese supported this initiative and in March 1947, Rev. João F. da Silva, (anglicized to John F. Silva), arrived in Lowell from Portugal to assist Father Grillo. Within a few months another priest from Portugal, Rev. Manuel J. Cascais, joined Father Silva as a second assistant pastor.
A few months after celebrating his 25 years in the priesthood, Father Grillo’s health worsened and in November, 1948, he died at the age of 63. Rev. John F. Silva succeeded him and began a 30-year tenure as pastor at St. Anthony’s. While Father Grillo led St. Anthony’s parish through the hard times of the Great Depression and during the difficult years of World War II, Rev. Silva assumed control of the church during a period of prosperity for many of his parishioners. In 1958, over a 1,000 attended the 50th anniversary of the church on Central Street. Held at the Lowell Auditorium, the celebration featured speeches by Senator John F. Kennedy and Representative Edith Nourse Rogers. The most significant physical change occurred in 1960 when the superstructure of the church was finally constructed. Boston architect Mario V. Caputo produced the design for St. Anthony’s modeled after a church in Colombia.
During Father Silva’s pastorate, a number of priests assisted him, including Rev. Joseph L. Capote (1949 to 1950) and Rev. Antonio Pinto (1952 to 1954). In late 1972, Rev. Eusebio Silva, a cousin of Father Silva, arrived from Portugal to serve as his assistant. Father John Silva successfully led opposition to a proposed extension of the Lowell Connector highway that would have obliterated a large part of the parish neighborhood.
In 1978, Father Silva retired from the priesthood and Cardinal Humberto Medeiros appointed Rev. Eusebio Silva as administrator of St. Anthony’s. When Father Eusebio assumed the pastorate of St. Anthony’s in Cambridge, Rev. Antonio Pinto was appointed interim priest. In 1990, Rev. José S. Ferreira assumed the leadership of the church and was assisted by the Rev. Ronald Gomes. In 1995, Father Ferreira was transferred to St. Anthony’s in Cambridge, and Rev. Francis M. Glynn, the first non-Portuguese priest of the parish, became pastor. Father Glynn served during a period of a growing Brazilian community in Lowell, but also at the time of a major strike in the city at the Prince Pasta factory, which employed dozens of his parishioners. Father Glynn supported the striking workers and their families, but despite his efforts and many others, including Representative Martin Meehan and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the corporation that owned the plant shut it down.
In 2004, following Father Glynn’s assignment to a parish in Waltham, Massachusetts, Rev. Charles J. Hughes, became the pastor at St. Anthony’s. Father Hughes’ tenure proved a challenging time with declining parish membership and church closures in the wake of the numerous clergy sexual abuse cases in the Archdiocese. As with many other parishes, St. Anthony’s had no connection to any of these cases; however, it shared with many other churches increasing financial struggles and a continued drop in membership. Following Father Hughes’ departure in 2016, St. Anthony’s became part of the Lowell Collaborative in which it was joined with Immaculate Conception Church and Holy Trinity Church under the leadership of Rev. Nicholas A. Sannella. This administrative arrangement remains in place with Rev. Deacon Carlos DeSousa serving as a key clergyman at St. Anthony’s.