History Of St. Anthony the Abbot Catholic Church
In 1783, some Irish priests, among others, came to Florida and secured funds and permission to build the first permanent church in 1793 at St. Augustine. It became the Cathedral of the Diocese in 1870 when Bishop Augustine Verot was appointed the first bishop. Bishop Verot held the first Catholic Mass in Brooksville at the Hope residence on Easter Sunday 1874.
The founding of St. Anthony parish in San Antonio, Florida, in the 1880's provided the local Catholics with a priest who came to Brooksville on a regular basis to attend to religious matters.
The Brooksville Catholic Mission was served from St. Anthony parish in San Antonio from 1892 to 1901 by Father Roman Kirchner, O.S.B. Beginning in the summer of 1902, the priests of St. Leo Abbey came regularly to Brooksville to celebrate Mass for the Catholics of Hernando County at the home of Linn B. Sanders.
In 1908, the Catholic Women's Club was formed for the purpose of raising money to build a church. The first Catholic Church in Brooksville was built on Olive Street in 1908. Hearing of the ladies efforts, the construction was paid for and by the Honorable A. H. Hirst of Haverford, PA, in honor of his deceased son, Anthony, Jr. For this reason the church is called St. Anthony. (This church is still standing but is now a private home, 61 Olive Street.)
During this time the church was served by the priests from St. Leo Abbey in San Antonio.
St. Anthony parish in Brooksville was the hub for all mission activities for Hernando and Citrus Counties. Father James Hoge was their Priest-in-Charge from 1944-1948, during which time he started a mission in Inverness.
The first resident priest was Father Ignatius McCarty, O.S.B. In September 1948, he set up residence on South Brooksville Avenue. Shortly after this a house was built next to the church on Olive Street.
Father Edward Martineau, O.S.B., became the resident priest in the late fifties. By 1963, the church had become inadequate for the needs of the congregation, so a new provisional church, school and rectory were started on U.S. Highway 41. The dedication took place on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1964.
Father Maurus Cook, O.S.B., was at St. Anthony parish from September 1965 to September 1966.
Father James Hoge and Father Paul Romfh, O.S.B., came to St. Anthony parish as a team in September 1966. St. Anthony's primary school opened for the first time September 5, 1967. However, from the onset, the debt incurred in this move, coupled with an attempt to operate a parish school for a very few children without the aid of teaching Sisters, proved to be a burden beyond the financial means of the small Catholic Community. This entire piece of parish property was sold by the Diocese to the Hernando County School Board.
Father Claude Brubaker was installed as Pastor while the church and school were still located on U.S. 41 North. Father George Malin became his assistant.
After months of careful evaluation, Bishop Charles McLaughlin negotiated a contract, purchasing a site on State Road 577 (truck by-pass). In the interim, Mass was said in the old Brooksville Theater on Broad Street for approximately one year. The new St. Anthony Catholic Church or St. Anthony Catholic Life Center, was blessed and dedicated by the Bishop on December 27, 1970. The original building could accommodate about 350 people for Mass in the Church and the adjoining hall could be opened to seat another 100 people. The building also contained five small rooms, originally designated as classrooms and offices and a kitchen and dining room.
In 1973, Father Lawrence Kerich became Pastor of St. Anthony parish. Father Robert Lieb, Father Raymond Heinz and Father Leo Kapphahn were his assistants.
Father Kerich initiated the idea of the Annual Spring Festival to bring parishioners together as a family. He also organized the Parish Council as mandated by Bishop Larkin. During this period, the St. Anthony St. Vincent De Paul Society was formed to assist the needy in the community. Also, at this time, the church was honored with the help and presence of Sisters Therese, Flora and Alice, members of the Order of the "White Sisters of Africa", who made their home among us for two years.
Upon Father Kerich's retirement in 1979, Father David Heffernan was appointed Pastor with Father Kapphahn as his assistant. During Father Heffernan's tenure, plans were made, ground broken, and our Parish Hall was built. The dedication was held on February 23, 1982, with all former living pastors in attendance.
Following Father Heffernan's untimely death in November 1982, Father Kapphahn was appointed Interim Pastor until March 1983, when Father John Murphy was assigned to St. Anthony parish.
Father John Murphy approached Bishop Larkin for permission to construct a new rectory to replace the two trailers that had served former pastors for many years. Permission was granted and construction was completed and dedicated April 2, 1985.
Father Murphy invited Monsignor John McNulty to our parish for discussion of the establishment of the DayStar Life Center. The center was opened September 1983.
Sister Laurian arrived during Father Murphy's tenure. Her duties included Director of Religious Education and assisting Readers.
Deacon Frank Appel came to our parish in 1985. His duties included visiting the sick in hospitals, homes and nursing homes. He assisted the priests with the many church services and ceremonies. He continued his ministry until his death on June 21, 1996.
Father William O'Meara was appointed Assistant Pastor of St. Anthony parish and Priest-in-Charge of St. Anne Mission in Ridge Manor, Florida on September 1, 1986. Father "Willie" O'Meara died March 15, 1990.
Sister Loretta Lonsdorf arrived at St. Anthony parish on September 1, 1987. Her main ministry involves pastoral care for the sick and homebound; other ministries involve Chairperson of the Liturgy Committee, assisting with the Extraordinary Ministers, R.C.I.A., and Ministry of Praise prayer line.
In January 1988, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin appointed Father Anthony D'Angelo Administrator of St. Anthony's. One of Father D'Angelo's first projects was the renovation of St. Anthony Church. In 1988, expansion again became necessary as there were over 1200 families registered in the parish. Because of this growth in membership, the present church was renovated to increase the seating capacity. The exterior and interior were made more attractive and contemporary in design. He was able to realize the results of his many months of labor when the newly renovated church was dedicated on October 22, 1989. Father D'Angelo served at St. Anthony parish until November 10, 1992 when he was appointed Pastor of St. Joan of Arc parish in Spring Hill, Florida by Bishop Favalora.
In August 1989, Sister Patricia Saunders arrived at St. Anthony parish as Director of Religious Education. These programs prepare children for the reception of the sacraments. The family program, which includes religious education for adults, was instituted by Sister Patricia; other ministries involved serving on the Diocesan Advisory Board and Coordinator of Directors of Religious Education in Hernando/Citrus area.
Father Bruno Szymusiak was assigned Associate Pastor of St. Anthony Church and Administrator for St. Anne Mission from June 1, 1990 through June 30, 1991. He was permanently assigned to St. Anne's on July 1, 1991 and served there until his retirement in January 1997.
Father Leonard Plazewski was ordained on May 18, 1991, by Bishop Favalora at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg. Father Len was the youngest priest in Florida and served as Parochial Vicar at St. Anthony's from May 1991 until June 1993.
On May 26, 1992, Bishop Favalora assigned Seminarian Peter Schweitzer to St. Anthony parish to complete his Pastoral Field Education Internship. In November 1992, Bishop Favalora granted diaconal faculties to Deacon Peter Schweitzer. Deacon Schweitzer served at St. Anthony's until his priestly ordination. He was then appointed Parochial Vicar at St. Cecelia parish in Clearwater, Florida on May 22, 1993.
Effective November 10, 1992, Bishop Favalora appointed Father John Plourde Pastor of St. Anthony parish. On April 14, 1993, Father Plourde was appointed Associate Pastor of St. James the Apostle parish in Port Richey, Florida. During the absence of a pastor, Father Leonard Plazewski was appointed Administrator of St. Anthony parish until June 1, 1993.
Father Robert Donlan was named Pastor of St. Anthony parish on June 1, 1993. Bishop Robert Lynch appointed Father Donlan to be the Dean for the priests of the Hernando Deanery, and to serve on the Presbyteral Council.
Father Donlan celebrated his 40th priestly anniversary in September 2007 and retired in June 2008.
Deacon Michael Ruffner received Faculties at St. Anthony on March 23, 2005 at which time he began his diaconal service. Manuel Carreiro was ordained a deacon by Bishop Lynch on June 28, 1997 at which time he began his diaconal service at St. Anthony parish.
In 1999, renovations were again under way. Due to the construction of Cortez Blvd., the decision was made to add a Commons Area which would help defray the noise from the highway, and also become a meeting place for our parishioners.
On July 1, 2008, Bishop Robert Lynch appointed Father Craig Morley to St. Anthony. Father Morley was installed as Pastor of St. Anthony Church on December 14, 2008. This was his first parish as a pastor. Father Morley was instrumental in making known the actual name of St. Anthony the Abbot. After his first year he began the ROC & Soul Youth Mass on Sunday evenings. Portables were purchased to be used for additional faith formation classes. It was also necessary to use one of the vacant houses on church property for youth meetings. It was named “Holy Hut”. In 2013, new kneelers were installed in the church.
In 2010 Joshua Hare joined St. Anthony Church where he discerned the priesthood.
On July 1, 2014, Father Paul Pecchie was named Pastor of St. Anthony parish. He was instrumental in arranging perpetual adoration in the chapel by having a specially designed tabernacle and structurally enclosing the chapel. Father Pecchie gifted the parish with a beautiful tabernacle which was placed in the sanctuary of the church.
Deacon Matthew Shirina received diaconal faculties at St. Anthony on July 1, 2015 and on July 11, 2016 was reassigned to another Catholic Church.
In July 2017, Sisters Castissima Masambo and Afra Urio arrived at St. Anthony to serve in ministries. They are from the Sisters of Our Lady of Kilimanjaro Motherhouse in Moshe, Tanzania Africa. The Sisters left St. Anthony in 2018.
On April 14, 2018, Joshua Hare was ordained a Transitional Deacon. Joshua joined St. Anthony Church in 2010, where he discerned the priesthood. His Priesthood Ordination was May 18, 2019 at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, St. Petersburg, and his Mass of Thanksgiving was on May 19, 2019 at St. Anthony the Abbot Church.
As part of the updating of church structures and grounds, the interior of the church was painted in September 2018.
The beautiful outdoor St. Joseph's prayer garden between the church and parish hall was created in the Spring of 2020.
In July of 2022, the altar was completed with new white furnishings.
In October 2023, new communion rails were added, matching the white furnishings in the sanctuary.
Our history cannot be complete without mentioning the many parishioners and friends who have contributed their time, efforts and financial support to the development and growth of our church. Thanks also to a dedicated and committed parish staff.
Nourished by the sacraments and led by the Holy Spirit, St. Anthony's many parish organizations and ministries, together with our entire faith community, strive to reach out, witness and respond to the call of our Lord Jesus to unconditionally love one another.