Saint Anthony Church in Oceanside has really been three different parishes in its 79 year history—first a shrine parish, then a diocesan parish, and finally a Jesuit-directed parish, each one building on the strengths of the past.
In 1927, when Bishop Molloy sent Father Robert Barrett, an Irish born priest, to Oceanside, there were only a few Catholics in this community. The first Mass was said in the Salamander firehouse with about fourteen people in the congregation. After some difficulties, a parcel of land on the corner of Windsor Parkway and Fulton Avenue (the area now used as a parking lot and basketball court) was obtained and the construction of the church was begun. Father Barrett was a wealthy man (he often said that his family owned Guinness’ Brewery, although that may have been in jest) and he used his personal fortune to build and enhance his beloved church and grounds.
The church opened in 1929 and it was so unusual and beautiful, with flowers and singing canaries, that it immediately attracted many visitors. Built partially underground, it included life-size scenes of saints and a crucifixion scene in the rear. Imitation rock formations were added to the interior, giving the appearance of a cave or grotto. Beautiful gardens surrounded the building and a small chapel, originally dedicated to St. Francis but later renamed in honor of Mother Cabrini, was added.
As more and more visitors were attracted to the church, the land across Anchor Avenue was purchased. The rectory was built, and the Miraculous Medal Chapel and Sacred Heart Chapel were erected with beautiful walkways and extensive gardens for meditation.
For the next 25 years pilgrims and tourists flocked to the shrine by car and bus, coming from as far as Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Visitors attended Mass and spent time strolling through the grounds, finding peace and tranquility.
But times were changing. The parish population grew with families moving into the area from Brooklyn and Queens. Fewer people came on pilgrimage for refreshment and renewal. When the underground church was destroyed by fire in 1960, the era of the shrine came to a close. A new pastor was assigned and the change from a shrine to an active family parish was complete.
A beautiful school building and convent were constructed in 1961. The Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt joined the parish to administer and teach at the school. The new parish school prospered and an extensive religious education program was established for children not enrolled at the school. Sports and social programs were provided not only for the youth of the parish but also for young people of the entire area.
During these years, many parish organizations were formed and programs established, including the annual Feast of St. Anthony. In the years following Vatican II, there was large increase of lay participation in the life of the parish, with a Parish Council, School Board, Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, Choir and Liturgy Committee. A series of adult education courses were designed to help people understand and adjust to the changes brought about by Vatican II.
However, within a few years, school enrollment began to decline. The Dominican Sisters could no longer staff the school and the financial burden became too great for the parish to bear. After many meetings and much discussion, the decision was made by the Diocese to close the school in June 1972.
The closing of the school and the needs of the growing parish led to a change in parish administration. In December 1978, Father Joseph Austin, S.J., the new pastor, arrived with two other members of the Society of Jesus. The parish entered a new era as a Jesuit Apostolate.
As part of the effort to bring people together, RENEW, a three-year program of prayer and faith sharing was begun. A Youth Ministry was formed to provide expanded social and spiritual activities for the young people, and a Parish Outreach program, in conjunction with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, was initiated to assist the needy in the parish. The once empty school building became a vibrant Parish Center with space for offices and many spiritual and educational parish activities, including Pre-School,
New Horizons (an alternate high-school program administered by the Oceanside Schools), Senior Center (administered by Catholic Charities), and a revitalized Religious Education for over 1600 youngsters. The convent was converted to Tabor Retreat House. Ignatian Spirituality, involving Living With Christ, New Wineskins, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Ignatian Lay Volunteer Corps and small prayer support groups, continue to flourish.
The liturgical program expanded with twelve Masses on the weekend, including the Family Mass, the Choir Mass, the Youth Rock Mass, and the Spanish Language Mass for the active and growing Hispanic community.
On May 15, 2002, our Diamond Jubilee began, celebrating 75 years of St. Anthony’s Parish. The festivities continued until December 2003, with the grateful recognition of 25 years of the Jesuit community in Oceanside.
Our parish has grown from the fourteen faithful who attended that first firehouse Mass to a community of more than 4,800 registered families. In the early days, people flocked to St. Anthony’s Church to enjoy the beauty of the shrine and its surroundings. Today, people come here for the beauty of the spirituality, the liturgy and the community. We have been truly blessed!
Former St. Anthony's Parish Pastors/Administrators (Diocesan)
Rev. Robert Barrett
Rev. Dennis E. Finn
Rev. Thomas D. Helfrick
Rev. Martin Dempsey
Rev. John P. Drab
Fr. Albert J. Rogers
Msgr. James Griffin
Fr. Joseph Austin S.J.
Fr. Austin was born in the Bronx on February 12, 1931. He graduated from Xavier High School and entered the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson in July 30, 1949. His seminary studies were made at Bellarmine College Plattsburgh NY, Loyola College in Shrub Oak, NY and Woodstock College MD. On June 21, 1962 he was ordained a priest in the Fordham University Chapel by Francis Cardinal Spellman.
From 1964 to 1970 he served as a chaplain in the United States Army and saw extensive service in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Upon leaving the army he studied law at Loyola University in New Orleans LA. From 1973 to 1978 he was on the parish staff of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan and also served as rector of the Jesuit Community on 83rd Street from 1986-1989. From 1978 to 1986 he was Pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish Oceanside and died on April 8, 1990.
Fr. Kirk Reynolds S.J.
Fr. Reynolds is presently on the staff of Loyola Retreat House in Morristown, New Jersey. Fr. Reynolds received his undergraduate degree in English and earned Masters degrees in both social work and divinity.
Previously, Fr. Reynolds served at the St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset, at Nativity parish in NYC and as Pastor at St. Anthony’s parish in Oceanside, NY.
Fr. Vincent Sullivan S.J.
Fr. Sullivan entered the Society of Jesus on July 30, 1965. After philosophy and theology studies, he undertook regency at Xavier High School in Chuuk, Caroline Islands and was ordained a priest in 1976. After ordination, Fr. Sullivan worked at Saint Ignatius Retreat House, Long Island (Inisfada) for two and-a-half years. Since 1979 he has served as parish priest and pastor of St. Anthony's Parish, Oceanside, N.Y.; Director of Inisfada; pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in New York and St. Peter's Parish in Jersey City. He was named rector of Ciszek Hall in 2004.
Fr. Carsten P. Martensen S.J.
Fr. Martensen entered the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1967, and was ordained a priest on June 11, 1977. He has a BA degree in history from Marist College, a Master of Divinity degree from Weston Jesuit School of Theology and a MS Ed. Degree in Counselor Education from Northern Illinois University. His assignments have included teaching at St. Luke’s Grammar School and at Fordham Preparatory School. Fr. Martensen also has worked as campus minister at Northern Illinois University, chaplain at Fordham Preparatory School and Director of Campus Ministry at St. Peter’s College. He served as Pastor of St. Anthony Church for seven years.
Rev. D. James French, S.J.
Born in Buffalo, Father French entered the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits, at the Bellarmine College novitiate in Plattsburgh in 1962. He studied at Fordham University in the Bronx and Woodstock College, which was then in New York.
As a Jesuit scholastic, the last stage before his ordination for a Jesuit priest, he taught at Brooklyn Preparatory School from 1968 to 1971. After being ordained in Rochester in 1974, he continued working in high school ministry. He was a teacher at Canisius High School in Buffalo from 1975 to 1988, and served as a chaplain at Regis High School in New York City from 1988 to 1993.
From 1993 to 1999, he was the rector at St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City, N.J., and at St. Peter’s Church there, where he served as the leader of the Jesuit community at the parish.