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History of Saint Anthony

The first Catholic Parish in Broward County

Crowds gather at St. Anthony Church in 1922 for the dedication of St. Anthony, Browards first Catholic church. (photo Fort Lauderdale Historical Society)

Broward’s first Catholic Church was dedicated in December of 1922, under the guidance of Father G.J. Plunkett. The church was built from formidable gray stone hauled in from quarries in northern Florida. Saint Anthony was originally located on the northeastern corner of Third Avenue and East Las Olas Boulevard. At that time there were 65 Catholic families located in the area.

When the church was originally built there was ample space to cater to all its members with room to spare. Two masses were held each Sunday morning during the Season and one during the summer months.

Some 2,000 people called Fort Lauderdale home in 1921. Two years later, the town had grown to more than 3,000 souls. By 1926, the city’s population had increased to 13,000.

Then in September of 1926 a violent hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour devastated the southeastern coast from Miami to Pompano Beach.
The population had dropped to approximately 8,600.

However, as the 1930’s ended, the number of winter tourists flocking to Fort Lauderdale proved too great for the 250 seats in the gray stone Saint Anthony Church on Las Olas Boulevard.

In August of 1946, Msgr. John J. O’Looney announced that the Saint Anthony community would raise $350,000.00 to build a new church that would accommodate more than 1,000 people. This new church would be built on the corner of northeast third street and northeast ninth avenue.

On June 6, 1948, Bishop Thomas J. McDonough of Saint Augustine presided that Sunday at the laying of the cornerstone for the new Saint Anthony Catholic Church. Elaborate ceremonies marked the occasion, with a sealed copper box containing the history of the church to this day and the current state of affairs in the world and in this area to be placed therein for posterity.

Pictured shortly after it was built in 1949, the new St. Anthony church held 1,000 worshipers - four times the number of the original church built in 1926.

On February 6, 1949, Bishop McDonough made another trip to Fort Lauderdale to formally dedicate the new Saint Anthony Church. It was a great day for the community of more than a thousand people who attended the Solemn High Mass and dedication ceremony.

Saint Anthony parish proved itself a nurturing and maternal community of faith as Broward’s “mother church” – spawning new parish churches to meet the spiritual needs of the county’s skyrocketing population in central and northern Broward.

Saint Anthony Church stands as a beacon of faith and hope to all who gather here to worship our Lord.