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Tuesday, 21 June 2022 12:59

Beauty Series | St. Anthony of Padua – Effingham

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st anthony 6The history of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham is about as deep as any in our diocese. It all started in 1858 with a brick church on what is now the site of Goff Gym with the first Mass taking place on Christmas day. It was the first church in Effingham, a city known for its religious heritage. St. Anthony was a mission parish when it began, served by priests from the neighboring villages until 1871. Today’s church, built in 1875, is one of the most prominent structures in Effingham, attended by several generations of Catholics.

“They have all this history, and many are so willing to tell it to you, and it is such a rich history,” said Father Al Allen, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish. “You can tell a lot of that by looking at the beautiful stained-glass windows and the memorials that are on the windows that mention the families. Most of them are in German it goes back that far. To talk to these people and they will say, ‘This was my great-great-great grandparent,’ it’s overwhelming at times. It is just beautiful.”

Inside the church, your eyes will be drawn to the immense ceilings and beautiful woodwork seen throughout. Like several churches in our diocese, the stained-glass windows are probably the most striking feature, which were installed in 1911. Images of saints, Mary, Jesus, and scenes from Salvation history line the walls, all displaying fine details and rich colors, which pour into the church on sunny days. A more recent window, installed in 1958, is behind the choir loft. It beautifully depicts St. Anthony holding the baby Jesus. For Father Allen, his favorite thing about the church is the baptismal font.

st anthony 5“You can hardly find someone who hasn’t been in a long line of family members who have been baptized here,” Father Allen said. “I think this beautifully designed font, coordinating with the church itself, is just so great, and it makes the baptisms just warm and a very familiar feeling.”

The church has undergone several renovations over the past century and a half, including one in 1996. That renovation removed the old wallpaper, and the statues and Stations of the Cross were completely restored and repainted.  

One place that Father Allen says is “well-kept secret,” even though the parish does not want it to be secret, is a prayer area behind the tabernacle.

st anthony 4“I call it a meditation chapel because it has a lot of the things a chapel would have like the sanctuary light which serves the chapel and the church,” Father Allen said. “We have a lot of people who dedicate themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, and we have those images on the wall. So, it affords people a place to come and meditate whenever they want to. It’s a quiet place and normally the lights are off in the church, so it gives the adorer a private and nice place to be. It’s one of things you just don’t think about until you experience it. I find it very handy during the day and when there is a little tension, you can come relax and pray and spend some time with the Lord.”

Serving the Catholic community in Effingham for more than 160 years, the history here is profound, something the 1,300 current families at the parish recognize and honor every time they step inside. 

“One of the things that really gets me when you walk into St. Anthony is the peace,” Father Allen said. “The peace and the calm. You can be as tense as you can, but when you walk into the church, as big as it is, which is kind of odd — you would think it would be intimidating, but when you walk in, there is a certain peace. You can feel the grace. As I like to tell people, that is the spirit that is in this church. The spirit of the years and years of rich history that help you become calm.”