Atwater's St. Anthony's Church celebrates 50 years

ATWATER -- Ann MacDonald has no problem remembering the date St. Anthony's Church opened. A couple of weeks after its Dec. 17, 1958 completion she received her First Holy Communion at its altar.

For MacDonald, it was the start of a lifelong relationship with her church.

"Every significant religious event of my life has happened at St. Anthony's Church," she said.

The church was first built at the corner of Drakeley Avenue and Winton Way in 1913; that building now houses the Wilson Funeral Home.

When the needs of the parish outgrew the original structure, plans were made to build a new one at the corner of Juniper Avenue and Winton Way.

The church saw the need not just for more room to worship but also for a school, convent and rectory.

Education came first and in 1950 a committee was formed -- headed by Louis Passadori, Joe Enos, Joseph Trindade, Jr. and Alez Klimas -- to raise funds to begin the project.

In 1952 ground was broken for the construction of St. Anthony's Parochial School and Convent.

It was completed in 1955.

Two years after the completion of the school, in May 1957, work began on the church with a building fund committee formed.

The goal was to raise $150,000 to complete a new church, a rectory and a cafeteria and social hall for the school. That push was led by the Rev. Father William O'Shea.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held on Dec. 16, 1957 and 367 days later on Dec. 18, 1958 the first Mass celebrated the Feast Day of Our Lady.

The church was built based on the designs of a Turlock architect, the contractor was Arden Hutchings; the mason Warren Miller.

Pews were crafted by hand in Oakland and numbered 600.

Stained glass was shipped from Ireland to cast a peaceful glow on parishioners during daytime Masses.

The altar linens were handstiched by the Altar Society. The total cost was $79,000 -- about $70,000 less than the estimated cost when building began.

Since those days the church has continued to be a place of spiritual succor to many.

Parishioners such as Greg Olzack, former Atwater mayor, look at pictures of the groundbreaking and points to a picture of himself himself as a young boy.

Olzack has attended Mass at St. Anthony's Church, married there and will definitely be there on Sunday, when 50 years of spiritual guidance are celebrated with a reblessing of the church.

For MacDonald, who was 6 years old when she first stepped into St. Anthony's Church those long years ago in 1958 she can only feel blessed.

"Worshipping in the same place for 50 years, you feel a warm familiar feeling, a lot of peace," she said. "Even when those events have been of loss, not celebration."

MacDonald hopes that her two children who have been baptized and received their First Holy Communion at St. Anthony's Church get to receive all the blessings she has and that they may someday marry there as she did -- just not yet.

The reblessing of St. Anthony's Church will take place on Dec. 28 at noon.

Afterward many will gather to exchange memories, view old photos, sip refreshments and most of all feel blessed that they can worship in the same place year after year.