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History of St. Anthony's


When a group of African American families in the Greenville area of South Carolina, during the time of segregation, decided to form a black Catholic community. Their cause and journey was taken on by many people over the years. The first to undertake their mission was Rev. Fr. Sydney F. Dean a diocesan priest who was assigned as the assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina. 

In the mid-1930s, Fr. Dean felt called to evangelize the African American community. His initial work of evangelization was done in collaboration with the Sisters of Mercy whose convent was located at St. Mary’s parish. On September 24, 1934, Fr. Dean organized the St. Peter Claver Society. The first members of the society were baptized into the Catholic faith in May 1935.  At that time, most of the new African American Catholics worked at St. Francis Hospital, so it was more convenient and safer for the group to meet in the chapel of the hospital. 

The Most Rev. Emmett Michael Walsh, Bishop of Charleston, sought help of the Franciscans of Holy Name Province for this mission endeavor. So, Fr. Linus Verhelst, O.F.M, arrived in April 1935. He worked along with the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, who staffed St. Francis Hospital, and who greatly gave assistance to him, as well as to the new members of the St. Peter Claver Society. 

During the early months of 1939, it was decided that a mission church would be built to serve the growing number of Black Catholics. On February 1, 1939, Fr. Joseph Michael McGrath, O.F.M. arrived in Greenville, as the first pastor of the new mission. Six acres of land on Gower Street was purchased by the Franciscans, and ground was broken for construction of a combined chapel and friary on May 1, 1939

The new friary and chapel were completed by the end of August 1939. The first Mass was celebrated on Sunday, September 3, 1939. The mission, under the title “St. Anthony of Padua”, was formerly dedicated by Most Rev. Emmett Michael Walsh, Bishop of Charleston, on Mission Sunday, October 22, 1939

Another milestone was reached on June 27, 1949, when funds were received from the Bishop of Charleston and the Franciscan Missionary Union for renovation of an old farmhouse at 204 Douthit Street to be used as a school and convent. On September 8, 1951, St. Anthony Catholic School was opened, and Sisters were assigned from the Franciscan Community of Stella Niagara, New York to run the school. The school included kindergarten through fourth grade. 

In 1956, a new church and school were constructed, at 307 Gower Street. The school included kindergarten through eighth grade. When the Franciscan Sisters of Stella Niagara withdrew from staffing the school, the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, arrived in the Summer of 1972

On July 20, 1986, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities arrived from Williamsville, New York, and staffed the school until 2015, when the community left the parish and the school. This marked the end of the administration of the school by Religious Sisters. For more information on the school, click here,

The Franciscan Friars served St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church until July 15, 2020, when the parish transitioned to a Diocesan parish, and Fr. Wilbroad Mwape was assigned to the parish as the first diocesan pastor. 

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