Tricounty News

St. Anthony's celebrates 125th anniversary

 

Since the parish began in 1889, St. Anthony’s Church in Watkins has been the only church within city limits. The second church building, erected in 1912, is what visitors to Watkins see when approaching town, much the same as it was back then.

The original two acres of land was purchased for the church (and not cemetery) for the sum of $50. A large wooden church was built there and later moved to the south so that the new church could be built there. Services continued to be held in the old church during construction of the new. (The old wood church was later still moved and converted to farm buildings on at least two farms.)

 

Excavation of the basement of the new church began in March 1912, but was delayed several weeks because of weather. Members of the Watkins community donated money directly for the new church, and also raised funds with ice cream socials, card parties, and by the parochial school children working and entertaining.

 

Families donated money for the stained glass windows and other acoutrements that were imported from Germany (and are still there 125 years later). Just short of $5,000 was donated by 259 of the original families and individuals of the St. Anthony parish and community for this purpose.

Giant timbers were brought by rail car to Watkins. Farmers took turns using their horse teams and wagons to load and deliver them to the church site. Similarly, bricks were hauled to the church, one wagon loading at the rail yard as another unloaded at the church.

Dolores (Bates) Faber, now 82, recalls her father telling the story of how the cross was raised atop the steeple. It was Dolores’ grandfather, he said, whose team of horses hoisted the cross up to a man on top of the steeple. John Bates Sr.’s horses were the gentlest and best trained, able to stop on a dime. The horses pulled from as far away as the lumber yard (about two blocks away) raising the cross to the top, literally one step at a time.

The basement was completed before the upstairs of the church was, in 1913. Mass was held in the basement for a short time.

The St. Anthony School, to the north of the church building, has served its purpose, educating numerous young people in the area (Eugene McCarthy being the most noteable Watkins “home boy” to come through the school.) The school was begun in 1906 by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph; it was closed in 1995. Today, the school basement is used as a social hall, and indeed hosted the 125th anniversary reception Sunday. Within a matter of weeks, however, the school building will be torn down to make way for a new social hall. (The existing building is in far too bad shape, and it would be exhorbitantly expensive to bring everything up to code.) 
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A capital campaign is under way to raise funds for a new social hall that will connect to the church. Construction of the new hall is scheduled to begin in Spring 2015 for completion in the fall. (Donations toward this project would be most welcomed by the parish:  P.O. Box 409, Watkins MN 55389.)

 

 

St. Anthony’s Parish serves 400 families today, far from the original 30 back in 1889. Sixteen Pastors have served during these 125 years, and the parish has produced 10 ordained priests, 12 sisters, and one brother. The cemetery located to the south of the church is the final resting place of many of Watkins’ earliest settlers.

 

Bishop LeVoir led in the serving of Communion during the celebration Mass Sunday at St. Anthony's Church.

 

The corner stone of the new St. Anthony’s Church was laid August 18, 1912. 

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Timbers for St. Anthony Church were delivered by train then unloaded and hauled by area farmers who volunteered their services. All of the bricks for the church were similarly delivered to the church site.