As the population grew after the First World War, a group of Catholics residing in the northeastern of Trenton and the adjoining Township of Hamilton, a group of Catholics, 1919. petitioned Bishop Thomas J. Walsh to establish a new parish to serve their spiritual needs. The Bishop delayed his decision for two years concerned that the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Trenton was large enough to accommodate the Catholics of the area.
The growth in population made plain the need for a separate parish. On April 15. 1921, the Parish of Saint Anthony was incorporated and the Bishop asked the Conventual Franciscans of Immaculate Conception to staff the parish for a period of 15 years. Fr. Alphonse Lehrscholl, OMC was named pastor.
Property on South Olden Avenue, Hamilton (just beyond the Trenton city limits was purchased for the church and other buildings. A little more than a month later, Mass was offered in a newly erected “temporary church.”
Fr. Lehrsholl wasted no time in planning to build an elementary school. A cornerstone was laid on August 7, 1921. Students were welcomed on November 28 of that year. The opening of the school heralded the arrival of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The first principal was Sr. Emily. A convent for the Sisters was built and dedicated on November 2, 1923.
Fr. Lehrsholl served until 1926. He was succeeded by Fr. Sylvester Ahlhaus (1926-1932) who saw to the construction of the rectory dedicated on November 30, 1927. Fr. Raymond Werdge was appointed the third pastor and completed the Franciscans’ commitment to the Diocese in 1935. The pastoral care of the parish then passed to the Diocesan Clergy with the appointment of Rev. Msgr. Linus Schwarze. (1935-1952).
The parish was expanding into Hamilton Township especially in the Mercerville section. In 1938, Msgr. Schwarze was appointed administrator of the Mission of Our Lady of Sorrows, Mercerville. Father Peter Teston, parish assistant arranged to celebrate Mass at the Mercerville Firehouse on Christmas Day, with fifty people in attendance. This would be the spiritual home of the mission until the building of a church.
In the autumn of 1939 twelve acres at the corner of Nottingham Way and East State Street were purchased for the site of the church. After numerous fundraising events, a ground breaking was held for the building of the mission church in the summer of 1941. Monsignor Schwarze was assisted by Fr. Thomas O’Dea, parish curate. On October 18,1942, Bishop William A. Griffin officiated at the laying of the cornerstone and the blessing of the new church. In June 1943, the Bishop raised the mission to the status of an independent parish. Father John McKeon was appointed its first pastor.
By this time it was obvious that the temporary church was inadequate for the needs of a growing parish. The financial burdens of building a school, convent and rectory never permitted the Franciscan Friars to realize their plans for a new church. The Depression and the Second World War further delayed the realization of this dream. In 1949, Monsignor Schwarze took up the challenge.
Viewing the grand results of this endeavor, his letter to the parishioners seems almost humorous: “We are forced to abandon the elaborated plans of the Fransciscan Fathers in favor of a more modest yet dignified church building.”
A groundbreaking was held on October 18, 1949 beginning a two year project to build the current church. It was opened and blessed by the Most Reverend George W. Ahr, Bishop of Trenton on June 24, 1951. Its completion was hastened due to the illness of Msgr. Schwarze. He entered eternal life on May 3, 1952.
Bishop Ahr appointed as the fifth pastor of Saint Anthony, Monsignor Michael P. McCorristin, who as a young priest had served as Monsignor Schwarze’s assistant at St. Francis of Assisi, Trenton and at the time, Pastor of Holy Angel’s Parish, Trenton.
This pastor served the Diocese, selflessly for many years, as Vicar General of Bishop George W. Ahr. He was appointed to this position when Monsignor Richard Crean lost his life in the Cathedral fire in March 1956. In addition, Saint Anthony’s Church served as the Cathedral until the new Cathedral was opened three years later.
The long tenure of Monsignor McCorristin (1953-1988) would however be characterized by his unwavering commitment to Catholic Schools. In 1961, under Monsignor McCorristin’s leadership, the parish undertook the commitment to establish a parish high school to meet the needs of many students displaced by the closing of Trenton Catholic High School. Monsignor McCorristin aka “Iron Mike” took on the task of bricklayer and general contractor, with the help of many willing volunteers, insured that St. Anthony High School would open on September 9, 1962. The spacious campus is located at Leonard Avenue and Kuser Road in Hamilton. The Sisters of St. Francis responded generously to the needs of the community. Sr. Georgiana Evans was appointed principal. A convent for those sisters teaching in the high school was also built. In recognition of his devoted service, in June 1979, Bishop Ahr directed that high school be renamed “McCorristin High School.”
During his tenure, the needs the elementary school students did not go unnoticed. The high enrollment warranted the building of an additional larger building on the South Olden Avenue campus in 1968.
In 1988 Monsignor McCorristin retired from active priestly ministry and resided at the rectory until his death on December 5, 1990, a few months shy of his ninetieth birthday.
As his successor, Bishop John C. Reiss appointed, Monsignor James P. McManimon who was once an altar server to Monsignor McCorristin at Holy Angels, Trenton. He sought to modernize accounting practices, make repairs to parish facilities and bring greater lay involvement into parish life. Illness forced Monsignor McManimon to retire in April 1992.
Bishop Reiss appointed as “temporary administrator” a former associate pastor, Monsignor Leonard Toomey, retired pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton.
On June 22, of that year, a new chapter opened in the life of the parish with the appointment as pastor of Father Joseph L. Ferrante. He was transferred from the pastor of St. Gregory the Great, Hamilton Square. For a few weeks, he served as pastor of both parishes, until his successor in Hamilton Square was named.
Almost immediately, Father Ferrante undertook the extensive renovation of the church. On Sunday, November 6, 1994, Bishop Reiss solemnly dedicated the newly renovated church. In addition to the church, extensive renovations were undertaken in the rectory and convent. Improvements were made to the high school facilities and elementary school. During his tenure, the parish celebrated its 75th anniversary of its foundation and the arrival of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Father Ferrante was recognized for his pastoral ministry when Pope John Paul II named him a Prelate of Honor” with the title, “Reverend Monsignor” in September 1994.
On April 18, 1999 the parish joined in celebrating Monsignor’s silver jubilee of priestly ordination. Only five months would pass when in the early morning of September 23, 1999 the community learned that Monsignor Ferrante had died while preparing for morning Mass.
Bishop Smith appointed the parochial vicar, Rev. Michael Lankford administrator until the appointment of a pastor.
On December 20, 1999, Bishop Smith transferred the Reverend Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, from the Pastorate of Saint Joachim, Trenton to that of Saint Anthony. In order to meet the changing needs of the community and to make better use of the parish’s extensive facilities, the elementary school on South Olden Avenue was consolidated at the high school campus on Leonard Avenue. An extensive renovation was undertaken to house the elementary school in a wing of the high school that had not been used. The elementary school buildings on the church campus were then leased in order to generate revenue for the parish. Morever, the parish during this period, the parish was able to complete its payments on the one million loan that was taken for the church renovation begun in 1992.
The majestic parish church began the setting for a number of concerts by well known artists: the Choir of Westminster College, Princeton; the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra; the South Jersey Chorale, and the Choristers of Tewkesbury Abbey, England.
In November 2002, the parish welcomed a delegation from the Diocese of Kasana-Luweero with which Trenton Diocese is twinned, led by its Bishop, the Most Reverend Cyprian Lwanga. In July of the following year, the parish was honored to offer hospitality to Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments who was on a personal visit to the United States. In 2004, In the course of his visit, the Archbishop celebrated Mass along with Bishop Smith, Msgr. Gervasio, staff members of the Vatican congregation and priests from Italy. The parish house was honored to host in 2004, the Most Reverend Jose’ Sorra, Bishop of Lepazi, Phillippines, during his visit to Fr. Oscar Sumanga, parish adjunct.
In 2003, Saint Anthony Parish was involved in the “Trenton Ward Study” process that sought to restructure the parishes of the greater Trenton Area. This was a response to changing demographics, the clergy shortage, and the pastoral needs of new immigrants from Haiti, Africa, and Central America. Bishop Smith endorsed the recommendations of the study resulting in the changes described above. Before the parish merger and school closing, the parish honored the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia for their ministry to the parish which spanned 84 years.