The roots of St. Anthony’s Parish had their beginning in the early 1920’s in the tiny Hispanic community of Pinedale, located just seven miles from Fresno. Pinedale itself grew out of the Sugarpine Lumber Company, which processed lumber from the Sierra foothills. It was the company employees who settled the vicinity when they built their homes here rather than travel the distance to Fresno. Then, as the community grew the Catholics living in the area appealed to the diocese for a priest to take care of their spiritual needs. As a result the first known Mass was offered on August 10, 1924, by reverend Andrew Joerger, C.S.S.R., who commuted from St Alphonsus Church on Kearney Boulevard in Fresno. As there was no church in Pinedale, Mass was offered in a different home each Sunday.
At this time, the Sisters of the Company of Mary were already teaching religion to the children of Pinedale. They came to the children’s homes and instructed them in the faith.
Eventually, a lot was secured on the corner of Birch and Sugarpine Streets, and the original frame church was built at a cost of twelve hundred dollars. The Sugarpine Lumber Company donated five hundred dollars of this amount toward the construction of the church. The Storelli family donated the original cross and pews.
One of the original workers in the church, Ramon Garibay, and his wife, Marie, were the first bride and groom to celebrate their wedding in St Agnes Church in Pinedale. Many years later, in January, 1978, His Holiness Pope Paul VI conferred the Benemerente Medal on Mr. Garibay for his years of service and dedication to the Church. Other names associated with the early beginnings of the church in Pinedale are the Ascension Family, Ramon Esquivel Family and the Solis family.
The Mission Days
Father Joerger often told of the days when Blackstone was only a dirt road that ran from Shields to Pinedale and his schedule entailed three Masses on Sundays – 8 a.m. at St Agnes, in Pinedale, 9:30 a.m. at Malaga, and 11 a.m. at St Alphonsus. All three Masses were celebrated in Latin and the homily was given in Spanish. In those days of rigid fast, not even water was to be consumed after midnight if you were going to receive Holy Communion. This made his schedule even more rigorous. Father Joerger died in 1975, in the Ave Maria Rest Home in Monterey, having seen our parish grow from a mission church to nearly it’s present size. He had spent his entire life giving missions to the Spanish speaking community, all throughout California and Arizona, even in the extreme temperatures of Western summers and winters. He had never been known to take a vacation and his sole recreation was a tiny radio on which he listened to baseball games.
When the Franciscan Fathers took over the San Miguel Mission in 1928, it became necessary to find a new assignment for a dispossessed diocesan priest, Reverend Ascension Segarra. Deeming it an opportune time, Bishop MacGinley created a new parish for Clovis and Pinedale on March 19, 1929, and appointed Father Segarra as it’s first pastor.
A succession of pastors followed, each for a short while. They were: Reverend Robert H. Lewis, Reverend J.B. Foley, Reverend Patrick McCabe, Reverend John Nelson, Reverend Stephen O’Keefe and Reverend Walter Burke.
Reverend Francis X. Singleton who later became a Monsignor, retired in Fresno, was made pastor of Clovis, on November 19, 1937. In his time the first Vacation School was held and Friant, Huntington, Shaver Lakes were inaugurated as mission stations. He served until 1941.
Monsignor John B. Forde, who died June 11, 1978, as Pastor of Gustine, and Reverend Harry Clinch, first Bishop of the Monterey Diocese, succeeded Father Singleton.
When Monsignor Roger McCann took charge on October 5, 1947, he used his mustering pay from the Navy to add a bell tower to St Agnes Church, as well as adding sidewalks and benediction furnishings for the parish. His name is inscribed on a number of church vessels and in the sidewalks surrounding the area.
In 1953, St Agnes became a parish in its own right, with Father Denis Dohery assigned as the first pastor. Monsignor Denis J. Doherty was ordained in Ireland in 1946 for his home diocese, Clogher. He was loaned instead to the Monterey-Fresno Diocese and came to St. Therese’s in Fresno. For the next six years he served in Bakersfield, Los Banos, and Watsonville. In 1953, he became pastor of St Agnes Church. In 1960 when he was transferred again, it was to become Officialis, or the head of the marriage court, along with a myriad of other duties in the Chancery office. Monsignor was made a Papal Chamberlain in 1961 and a Domestic Prelate in 1968. Also in that year, he became Chancellor of the Diocese, and in 1970, he was appointed Vicar General.
In 1955, he built the present St. Agnes rectory. Then, in 1957, because of the influx of new parishioners in the southern end of the parish, another church site became imperative. An executive committee and team captains organized to raise funds for a new church.
Meanwhile, Father Dennis Doherty approached Tony and Anna Ochinero with a bid to purchase some of their land for a site for the new church. He was told that he land was not for sale. Instead, they generously donated ten acres of land to the church. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in 1957. The church, located at 5680 N. Maroa, was dedicated under the patronage of St Anthony of Padua. The first mass was offered in the new church on Easter Sunday, 1959. The building consisted of whit is now the Social Hall and the kindergarten and at the time, it seemed adequate for many years to come, but time would prove otherwise.
In May, 1960, Monsignor Doherty was appointed C.C.D. Director for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno and Reverend Patrick Flood was appointed as the pastor of the new parish. On his arrival, he found that all the bills had been paid, with the exception of twenty seven thousand dollars owing on the church building. In 1960, a parish hall was added to the church of St. Agnes in Pinedale to be used as a C.C.D. facility and parish activity center.
St Therese School, which was on Wishon and Floradora, was by that time bulging at the seams with children from St. Anthony’s Parish. Consequently, a school at St Anthony’s became the next item on the agenda. No money was available, but Bishop Willinger graciously agreed to advance the money on the pledges made by the parishioners. The eight-room school was built at a cost of one hundred and forty-five thousand dollars and opened its doors in September, 1962. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet staffed the school, which at first had only the first four grades. A new grade was added each year until all eight grades were complete. The administration section of the school was added in 1964 at a cost of thirty-four thousand dollars.
The Parish Grows
At this time there was no convent, so our Sisters commuted by car from Our Lady Of Victory Convent. By 1966, it became imperative to provide a residence for the Sisters. Therefore a home was purchased at 5693 W. Del Mar, which served as the sister’s home. To make the convent more comfortable, the Wathen Brothers added a self-contained room at their own expense.
The real estate boom continued around Fresno, and more and more people moved into the parish. Despite almost a dozen Masses on Sunday, it became evident that there was “no room at the inn.”
Edward Franz, and a number of other parishioners who grew up in parishes where the parish plant was located on a “one way street” and parking was difficult or non-existent, urged that the land located at the corner of Maroa and Bullard be purchased. About 1966, this was done, and the ten acres of land that were purchased for sixty-seven thousand dollars became the site of the new St Anthony of Padua Church.
Bishop Aloysius J. Willinger, C.SS.R., commissioned Mr. James J. Nargis, and architect, to draw up plans for the church. The contract was awarded to Tri-Central Construction Company. This company was operated by two parishioners, Vince Palmo and Henry Chakmak. A fund –raising campaign was attempted, but most of the debt on the church was eliminated through the generosity of the parishioners in the Sunday offerings.
The first Mass was offered in the newly completed St. Anthony’s Church on Sunday, May 12, 1968. Three years later, the rectory was added with the approval and blessing of Bishop Donohoe. The added expenditure put the parish debt at seven hundred thirty-nine thousand dollars. That debt was resolved by Easter of 1977. This was done with thanks to the generosity of the many parishioners whose sacrifices are known only to God.
In May 1977, a room was added to the north end of the Parish Hall to accommodate our school library and learning center and to also serve as a parish meeting room. At the same time, refrigeration was installed in the Hall. Kitchen facilities and a bar were added in addition to storage rooms and a new roof. All these additions amounted to over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The sale of a narrow strip of parish property on Bullard netted the parish one hundred and seven thousand dollars, with the result that the Hall is now clear of debt and all diocesan assessments were paid.
The Church Structure
St Anthony’s style is cruciform and has proved functional in this time of the energy crunch in that the Guadalupe Chapel section is heated and cooled independently of the main section. Also, Baptisms, Marriage, Penance and Funeral ceremonies, prayer group meetings and choir rehearsals can be held in either the Guadalupe or the main wings without overlap or noise interference with other ceremonies that are held almost simultaneously.
The total cost of the main church building, with furnishings, was eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The building is solid concrete construction, representing the power, strength and majesty of God. The windows are constructed to take advantage of the sunlight without the heat. The same concrete construction was used in the famed Coventry Cathedral in England, which we are told cost twenty five million dollars. The windows in St. Anthony’s are a special fridge benefit, only being visible when you leave the church to go out into the world.
The Cupola, in everyday jargon refers to as the skylight, has as its purpose “to point to God and bring in the light coming from God.” The architect, Mr. James J. Nargis, explained, “We want people passing to know that this is a church. We want them to realize that the purpose of a church is to point them to God and to the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross for us all. We want to lift people’s vision, hopes and spirit.” Sometimes we are so busy looking down that we only see the dust on our feet, we need to lift our eyes and spirits, too.
The tabernacle opens on both sides, to the Guadalupe Chapel and main wing side. This makes it accessible for private devotions and also for distribution of the Holy Eucharist.
The altars in both the main wing and the Guadalupe Chapel are constructed of Sierra White Granite, cut from the foothills at Raymond in Madera County, California.
The pews have been constructed to give ample space for the congregation’s comfort. Bishop Willinger requested a large sanctuary for possible future ordinations in our diocese. The sanctuary lends itself equally to other celebrations such as the children’s mass, First Communions, Religious Education services, religious concerts and large wedding parties.
Immediately behind the Main altar is the replica of the Last Supper, which we hope is a visual aid to recall the First Mass, “which started it all.” Saint John’s Seminary in Camarillo has the original Last Supper design executed by the artist, Senor Ballester, in Valencia Spain.
At the left of the altar is the crucifix, a Limpias replica which depicts Our Lord still alive in his agony on Calvary. The Crucifix was donated by another church.
The three paintings over the Last Supper are done in Byzantine Romanesque style. The Romanesque gilt softens the harsh, straight lines of the Byzantine art. The painting on the left depicts Our Lord as a child in the Holy Family, learning the trade of His foster father, Joseph. The image in the center is the Risen, glorified figure of Christ, here to remind us of His power and love for us. One the right of the main portrait of the Risen Lord is the painting, which depicts Mary, assumed into heaven, and crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. The full symbolism of the Trinity is embodied here with God, our father, and Christ, the Son, depicted next to Mary with the Holy Spirit shown as a dove above her.
The Bicentennial Mural over the tabernacle on the right side of the altar was commissioned for the two hundredth anniversary of our freedom as a nation. The mural; depicts saints who have been relevant to the American scene. Beginning at the far left of the mural is Junipero Serra, “ Apostle of California”, at San Diego, 1769, founding the first of twenty-one missions in California. Next to him is a frame of St. Anthony, “patron of our church,” meeting St Francis of Assisi.
The next saint represented is St Francis Cabrini, who was the first naturalized American saint. After arriving in this country from Italy, she built hospitals and schools for the newly arrived Italian immigrants.
In the center of the mural is St Anthony shown as he preached to the people in their own language, a ministry in which he may have been the first practitioner of his time. Today, some eight hundred years since his death, he is still venerated and invoked, among other things, for finding lost articles.
Next to St Anthony is St John Neumann, who was raised to Sainthood on June 15, 1977. He was ordained in New York City and founded the parochial school system in America, as we know it today.
St Elizabeth Seton, the first Native American saint, was born in New York in 1774. She was the founder of an order of Sisters who take care of hospitals and schools. Seton Hall University is named in honor of St Elizabeth Seton.
The final panel of the mural depicts St. Isaac Joques and venerable Kateri Tekawitha. Isaac Joques labored among the American Indian win upper New York State. Kateri Tekawitha, often called “Lily of the Mohawks”, is the first Indian in the United States to be considered fro Sainthood.
The statue of St Anthony in the front of the church depicts the saint as a vibrant, dynamic, smiling preacher of God’s word from the bible. He was one of the first of his time to use the vernacular and preach to the common people, and is second only to St Dominic in his renown as a preacher.
In the floor of the sanctuary is the Lily of St Anthony, representing the purity of his life and doctrine. On the left side of the altar, embedded in the floor near the organ is the coat of arms of Cardinal Timothy Manning, who arrived at St Anthony’s when the church construction was three-quarters finished and his guidance was a God-send. The motto in Cardinal Manning’s coat of arms is “Magnificat” – the first words of our Lady’s song of joy and praise on being chosen Mother of Jesus.
On the right side of the altar, embedded in the floor, is the coat of arms of Bishop Willinger, who initiated the building of St Anthony’s church. In Bishop Willinger’s coat of arms is his motto which salutes our Lady and has links of a chain design to represent each one of the Spanish missions in the then Monterey-Fresno Diocese. The diocese has since separated into two distinct units.
The bells of St Anthony’s carillon call us to prayer at noon and at six in the evening. Additionally, church call is sounded every Sunday at 10:45am.