History of St. Anthony Parish

The early years

A mission since 1901, a parish since 1905, St. Anthony Church has been around for a long time. It is one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese. Let's take a look at the history of our parish church.

Our history would not be complete without a look at the early history of the settlement in the area. The area was known in earliest times as "Three Forks", referring to the three types of travel that led to Seattle: boat, rail, and horseback along an army trail that wandered over and around the Skyway hill down to the Duwamish River. It was also called "Black Bridge" before it was named in honor of Captain William Renton, a founder, not of the town but of the Renton Coal Company.

There was a native population of Indians living on the flatlands along the Cedar River before the development of the town. One group settled in what is now Liberty Park, another between the Cedar and Black Rivers, and a third on the land later occupied by Erasmus M. Smithers, one of Renton's founding fathers.

The first white settlers found the place densely wooded. In 1853 Henry H. Tobin, who was joined later by his wife Diana, settled on a donation claim along the banks of the Cedar and Black Rivers. Tobin died soon afterwards, and in November of 1857, his widow was married to Erasmus Smithers. Through this marriage, Smithers acquired an interest in nearly 400 acres and later bought an additional 80 acres. Smithers had the town platted, named it after William Renton, and began to sell lots, all done in association with two other prominent citizens, T. B. Morris and C. B. Shattuck. Renton was incorporated on September 6, 1901. Our present church stands on land that belonged to Smithers.

The first Catholic Church building was not begun until 1906. Prior to this, the Catholic population had to travel to Gilman (now Issaquah) where Fr. Van Holderbeck came occasionally for Mass from his parish in Snohomish. In 1901, to better meet the needs of the people, an elderly priest, Fr. Winters, began to come occasionally from his parish in Newcastle to offer Mass in the homes of some of the early settlers. Following Fr. Winters' death, Fr. Patrick Ryan took up the occasional service of Renton from his parish in the White River Valley. Regular services were not available until 1905, when another elderly priest, Fr. Victor, retired to live with his niece in what is now Kennydale and began to offer Mass regularly in the homes of Thomas Nelligan, John Sedlacek and Dan Hogan.

The first Baptism of record August 10, 1901: Henry Moses, an Indian, was baptized by Fr. Winters at the home of John Sedlacek.

As the population increased in Renton, so too did the Catholic community. Services were moved to more spacious surroundings in the upstairs of the Tonkin Building at Third and Wells Avenue South. With the growth it became apparent that more permanent quarters were needed.

From 1905 to 1949

On December 3, 1905, a meeting of the Catholics of Renton was held in Library Hall for the purpose of forming plans to build a Catholic Church. A treasurer, secretary, and a board of trustees of 7 men were elected. Elected were: Treasurer, Thomas O'Brien; Secretary, Mrs. Knolf; and Board of Trustees, John J. Monaghan, chairman, James Donnelly, Mike Mihalcik, Dan Hogan, William Pierce, John Sedlacek, and William Moll. It was decided, subject to the satisfaction of the Board of Trustees, that they would purchase two building lots and would begin to collect money the first Sunday after Dec. 15, 1905. (The above information was taken from a ledger book at Renton Historical Museum. The book was found in a desk purchased by a Mr. Lyonais of St. Anthony, and was donated to the museum).

The first bazaar in Renton drew a large crowd; and $4,000.00 was made. When the parishioners had made enough money, they bought land from Erasmus Smithers, who also donated one lot. Approval to build the church was given by Bishop O'Dea. One Sunday in 1906, a group of men (Mr. James Donnelly, John Sedlacek, Dan Hogan, and John Monaghan) broke ground for the new church. The original church, which stood until the present one was built in 1954, faced Morris Avenue South and was built at a total cost of $3,000.00. It was a wood frame structure building and seated 300 persons.

The construction work finished, Fr. Victor officially retired, leaving the parish without a regular pastor. In 1907, Fr. John Power came from the White River Valley parish to the Renton parish to serve for two years.

Records show the first marriage of a Catholic and a non-Catholic at St. Anthony's was officiated by Fr. John Power on Dec. 25, 1907: Nels Wiberg and Anna Bassen. The first marriage of two Catholics in our Church was officiated by Fr. Power on Jan. 1, 1908: Edward Bassen and Mary Sedlacek.

According to memoirs of pioneers, with no actual dates or records, the first burial at St. Anthony's Church was James Donnelly, one of the founding fathers of the parish.

Fr. M. J. O'Callaghan was assigned to Renton in 1908. Purchasing a lot adjacent to the church, he had a permanent rectory built at a cost of $4,000.00. Fr. O'Callaghan instructed and Bishop O'Dea confirmed the first confirmation class in the church in 1909. A set of stained glass windows in the old building commemorated the event.

With the transfer of Fr. O'Callaghan to West Seattle in 1910, Fr. Joseph Camerman was assigned to Renton. His growing parish, proud of its new church and parish house, enthusiastically began a building campaign to put up a parish hall. This original hall was also a wood frame structure facing Morris Avenue. For the time being, the construction of the hall completed the parish facility. The church, parish house, and parish hall all stood on the ground that is presently occupied by the church alone.

Fr. Matthew Sampson succeeded Fr. Cammerman in 1911. It was during Fr. Sampson's first Mass in Renton that the warning signal was given to head to the hills for safety as the Cedar River dam had burst, and the Cedar River was overflowing. This was quite a dramatic reception for a new pastor. He remained as pastor until 1913 and was succeeded by Fr. N. J. O'Rafferty.

The onset of the First World War was turbulent for both the country and the small parish of St. Anthony. Five different priests served the parish from 1911 to 1919:

1911 - Fr. Matthew Sampson

1913 - Fr. N. J. O'Rafferty

1915 - Fr. Ailbe Heelan

1918 - Fr. Thomas Deere

1919 - Fr. F. B. Klein

Two of these Priests, Fr. Ailbe Heelan and Fr. Thomas Deere, died of influenza three months apart.

Fr. Ailbe Heelan succeeded Fr. O'Rafferty in 1915. It was while administering the Sacraments to victims of the dreadful influenza epidemic of 1918 that Fr. Heelan contracted the disease and died.

October 1918, Fr. Thomas Deere was appointed to temporarily fill the vacancy created by Fr. Heelan's death. However, he too contracted influenza administering the Sacraments to the dying and died. This second vacancy in 1918 was filled temporarily by Fr. F. B. Klein.

The year 1919 marked a dramatic change in the history of our parish. To that time, St. Anthony's had been served by more than 10 priests in a little more than 20 years. However, in the next 54 years of our parish's life and growth there were only two pastors (Fr. William Carey and Fr. Thomas Lane).

In 1919, Fr. William Carey began what was to be a long career as pastor of our growing parish. He served until forced by ill health to retire in 1948. He lived in retirement in Ireland until called by God to eternal life on January 6, 1973.

The 29 years of Fr. Carey's pastorate spanned a time of change for the city of Renton and for the parish. It was during the Second World War that Renton was in transition from the small town it had been during the early part of the century, to the small industrial city that it is today. In the decade of the forties, the population had nearly quadrupled; and there were new needs to be met in the growing area, especially in the facilities of our parish community.

Fr. Carey began to chip away at the debt that had accumulated through the building years of the parish. When the parish was seeing its way out of debt, he began to work toward establishing a parish grade school. Prior to the construction of the school, catechism had been taught by the young ladies of the parish and later, religious sisters from the White River Valley Parish and from St. Edward's Parish in Seattle. In 1925, nine lots were purchased and the Sisters of Charity of Halifax were asked to take charge of the school. Six sisters arrived five months after the groundbreaking in April of 1927. The original six-room school (still standing though incorporated into the present structure by two further additions) was dedicated by Bishop Edward O'Dea on September 4, 1927, and opened for its first students on September 6, 1927. One hundred and two students were enrolled for that school year, ranging from grades one through seven. The most recent building project at the school was the addition of portable classrooms erected in 1993-94 on the school playground. A first convent was built on a site now occupied by an addition to the grade school. The old convent was enlarged once in 1947 in preparation for the enlargement of the school. The convent was finally torn down in 1957 to make place for a new wing of the School. In this year, a new convent was built, which is today the Parish Ministry Center.

From 1949 to 2000

After Fr. William Carey's retirement in 1948, the assistant priest, Fr. Anthony Palmasani, administered the parish. In June of 1949, Fr. Thomas Lane was assigned to our parish as pastor. Fr. Lane came to a town and parish that had grown four-fold in ten years, from a small town of about 4000 to a small industrial city of over 16,000. This rapid growth forced the parish to expand its Sunday services to include a Sunday Mass at 9:00 for those living in the Highlands. Mass was celebrated in the Highlands Administration Building on Edmonds Ave. N. E. The pioneer spirit was still in evidence in these temporary surroundings. The altar was an ordinary banquet table with stilt props to elevate it to the proper height. The celebrant priest would bring the portable "Stone".

Mary Ellen O'Brien Steiner loaned the Highlands group her antique pump organ. Mary Ellen is the granddaughter of Mr. & Mrs. John Sedlacek, pioneer settlers in Renton and at whose home the first Mass was said in Renton. The Highlands group became a kind of second parish, organizing its own Altar Society, social events, and religious education. The separate services continued until 1954 when the new church was built downtown and could once again accommodate the entire congregation.

When Fr. Lane arrived in 1949, plans were already underway for extensive additions to the school. At a cost of $90,000 a second story was added, doubling the capacity. To accommodate the additional teaching staff of Sisters, the convent was renovated to include additional rooms.

The following year, the parish began a series of building projects, which would almost totally replace the early parish facilities of church, parish hall, and rectory. Since the parish hall was in an extremely bad state of repair, Fr. Lane contracted with Bill Stollenmayer to replace the building. Bill was general contractor on the project, and the men of the parish donated most of the labor. The total cost of materials was only $25,000. Curiously, it cost that much again in 1969 when storage areas were added, and renovation of the restrooms was carried out.

In 1952, the rectory that had been built in 1909 was moved from its old site to the site of the present rectory. A concrete foundation and basement was laid to allow for meeting areas, and the house was eased onto these foundations. By 1966, the house was found to be too small to accommodate three priests and a housekeeper, plus the parlors and meeting rooms that were necessary. Fr. Lane remembers that the cost of moving and renovating the house was the same as the cost of the addition in 1966, $25,000. (And inflation is still with us!)

In the spring of 1953, church services were transferred to the parish hall temporarily so that the original old white church could be torn down to allow for the new building. A new church that would seat over 800 persons, this was the first time parish boundaries would be established. The portion of the parish north of South 120th Street in Seattle would become a new parish to be called St. Paul. Construction continued on our church building and Archbishop Thomas Connolly dedicated it on May 9, 1954. Total cost of the church building was $300,000.

Dedication of our new church building was celebrated Sunday, May 9, 1954. Years of planning and effort were culminated in this handsome edifice which stands on a site first purchased in 1905 by a group of parishioners as a site for a church. St. Anthony's new church is a tribute, in a way, to kindly, soft-spoken Irish priest, Rev. Thomas Lane. Since his arrival here in 1949 he worked hard to complete this major building program. But he would have been the first to put much of the credit where he thought it belonged -- with the people who contributed their time and money when needed -- often at a sacrifice.

St. Anthony's parish was divided several more times with parishioners going to: St. Stephen The Martyr (1966), St. Joseph in Issaquah (1966), and St. Madeleine Sophie in Bellevue (1968).

The first Renton-born priest, Rev. August Banasky offered his first Mass at St. Anthony's Church in May, 1959. Reverend Banasky began his nine years of study to be a priest at an age when most priests have been ordained. He was a graduate of St. Anthony's grade school, and entered St. Thomas Seminary at Kenmore when he was 32 years old.

After serving our parish for 25 years, Fr. Lane retired in 1974. After his retirement he continued to live at St. Anthony's in the parish house, saying Mass each morning. Archbishop Thomas A. Connolly announced that Rev. Stephen Szeman would replace Fr. Lane as pastor. Fr. Szeman had previously served as Fr. Lane's assistant from 1953 to 1957.

Fr. Szeman arrived at St. Anthony's in 1974. The Parish Council and Administration Commission had been formed the previous year, but under Fr. Szeman they flourished. Together they saw the parish through a facelift of the church and school, the formation of parish "districts", and the transition to having a Parish Administrator in 1978; St. Anthony being the first parish in the Archdiocese to do this.

A Parish-wide project occurring during this period was the sponsoring of a Vietnamese family. The Mihn Nguyen family arrived in August of 1975. The parish helped them by providing a welcoming home.

St. Anthony's parish celebrated their 75th jubilee in May 1980. Since the time St. Anthony's was designated a parish instead of a mission, it has spawned a half dozen outlying missions, which have themselves become parishes.

As parishioners sought better ways to serve the needs of the Renton community, an extensive outreach program was developed; as well as an active youth ministry and organizations for the elderly. This parish has long had a strong St. Vincent de Paul Society to serve the poor. Other services added were family counseling, and a social justice committee to examine the ways in which the community as a whole treats the individual.

In 1986 Fr. Richard Hayatsu, a Seattle native, was named pastor to replace Fr. Stephen Szeman. Father Hayatsu was actively involved in the renovation of the church building, which began on June 5, 1994. Many parishioners pitched in to remove pews, kneelers, and carpeting. The renovation of the Parish Ministry Center commenced June 6, 1994 with all the ministries temporarily relocating to the Parish Rectory. Archbishop Murphy rededicated St. Anthony Church on September 17, 1994. The Parish Ministry Center reopened on December 5, 1994. The renovation took 55 days and over a million dollars to complete.

Fr. Hayatsu encouraged growth of the parish staff, and developed a good relationship between our school and the parish.

In 1989 Fr. Lane celebrated 60 years as a priest, and 40 years at St. Anthony's. March of 1992, forty-three years after his arrival at St. Anthony's Fr. Lane was honored on his 90th birthday. He was born in Abbeyfeale, Limerick, Ireland, one of 12 children, and grew up there on the family farm. Looking over his last six decades, Fr. Lane said that life as a priest has become harder, simply because there is more to do. There are fewer priests around, he said, and there are more parishioners. The favorite part of his job was visiting people, young and old. Fr. Lane moved to Mt. St. Vincent Nursing Home in 1994 and he died in March, 1997 at the age of 95. He is remembered by an educational endowment fund that helps provide scholarships to those St. Anthony School students with financial need.

After serving our parish for 13 years, Fr. Hayatsu was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi parish at Seahurst (Burien). In 1999 Fr. Gary Zender became our pastor. Fr. Zender is a native of Bellingham, and studied for the priesthood at St. Edward and St. Thomas seminaries in Bothell, Mount Angel College Seminary in Oregon, and at St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana. Fr. Zender offers the Mass in Spanish on Sunday evenings at 7pm.

Fr. James Knight Elliott came to our parish in May, 1999 to serve as Parochial Vicar. Fr. Elliott was ordained here at St. Anthony's in April, 1999. He was the first priest to be ordained in St. Anthony's Church. Fr. Elliott offers Mass on Sundays and some other days of the week for the Chinese community at Mt. St. Virgin Parish in South Seattle.

From 2000 to present

Fr. Gary Zender (1999-2014) saw a truly multicultural parish grow in size and faith after he arrived in August 1999.  Being fluent in Spanish allowed him to foster the development of the Hispanic community within the parish, and in addition to an already sizeable Philippine community, he saw a steady influx of Vietnamese and other Asian parishioners.  Combining these with the longstanding Italian, German and Irish communities, St Anthony’s became one of the most ethnically diverse parishes in the archdiocese, and at a living rosary celebration in 2005 prayers in were recited in 20 different languages.  In 2002, Fr. Gary initiated an ambitious long-range construction plan that will consolidate the parish campus and add significantly to its facilities.  The first phase, construction of a new gym and parking areas was completed in early 2004.  Future phases will include a new rectory, enlarged Parish Ministry Center, new social hall and meeting rooms, additions to the school, and expansion and refurbishment of the church. During his 15 years as pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Fr Zender also served as the Archdiocesan Vicar for Charities and Vicar for Clergy.

Fr. Armando Perez was assigned as pastor in July 2014 and was subsequently re-assigned in December 2014.

Donna Schlager was appointed Pastoral Coordinator of St. Anthony’s in December 2014.  Fr Victor Olvida (Parochial Vicar) and Fr Bryan Dolejsi (Parish Priest), with the assistance of other archdiocesan priests, attended to the canonical needs of the parish pending the assignment of a new pastor.

Fr Jack Shrum (2015- Present) assumed responsibility as pastor in July 2015.  He came to St. Anthony Parish having six years of experience in leading a parish and a fluency in Spanish.  The sharing of his gifts and the growth of St. Anthony Parish under his leadership are historical chapters yet to be written. 

St Anthony Parish continues to develop as an ethnically and culturally diverse community.  What would that small group of Catholics who met in the Library Hall in December 1905 say if they could see today what they started so many years ago?

Sisters of Charity of Halifax. The first six nuns arrived in April of 1927. Left to right Back row: Sr. Mary Fabian, Sr. Mary Baptist, Sr. Anna Patrick Middle Row: Sr. Mary Mercedes, Sr. Catherine Eucharia, Sr. Joseph Kevin, Sr. Robert Clare Front row: Sr. Mary Floretta, Sr. Edward Elizabeth, Sr. Ellen Mary, Superior, Sr. Mary Imelda, Sr. Mary Martina
The first addition to the old School happened in 1955. At far right is part of the first Convent.