In September 1984, the parishioners of St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church were devastated. Bishop Robert Brom’s public announcement left them numb and in disbelief. For the first time since 1891, St. Anthony’s would not be having Sunday Mass. The parish was officially shut down by the Diocese of Duluth due to financial struggles. For the past 28 years each May and December, former members of St. Anthony’s Church meet for luncheons at the Pick Wick Restaurant in Duluth.
From the time German-speaking Catholics migrated to Duluth, they attended Sacred Heart Catholic Church. In 1891, they moved into their own building, and by 1923 a new facility was built that included a church, school, and rectory at the current location at the crossroads of 11th Avenue East and 8th Street.
By the 1980s the school’s enrollment and parish membership declined significantly.
A September 1984 Duluth News Tribune article informed the public that the church was going to officially shut down. The article mentioned how the education committee set up a meeting with Bishop Brom to try and save their parish.
Donella Kubiak, a member of the education committee, attended the meeting with Bishop Brom.
“I started attending Mass there after I sent my eldest son to school there,” Kubiak said.
She became extremely involved with the school.
“I was a bookkeeper at the school and, in the summers, I would help with cleaning, painting and other maintenance,” Kubiak said.
The school brought in most of the money, and being located in an elderly neighborhood meant it would inevitably close someday.
“It was a sad sad situation,” Kubiak said. “Many of the people grew up going to church there, got married there, attended the school, received their first communions and confirmations all at the same place.”
Since the time of the closing, the building has been used as an adult daycare facility, housing for Benedictine sisters, and now is a child daycare facility run by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica.
However, this story does not end. Every May and December since the closing of St. Anthony’s, former parishioners meet up for a luncheon at the Pickwick Restaurant and Pub in Duluth.
“After the parish closed, some older women decided that they did not want to lose touch,” said Donella Leonard, who is the current organizer of the St. Anthony’s luncheon.
“They collected phone numbers and started to plan,” Leonard said. “Agness Erickson had the original list and was the planner. After she passed away, I took over.”
The luncheon was set up for people to re-unite and not lose touch. The atmosphere at the Pickwick is alive and bubbly. People enjoy reminiscing about the past, but also enjoy hearing about what people and their kids are up to nowadays. Over the last few years, a phenomenon has occurred with the luncheon: the number of people attending is rising each year. A lot of the older people are not around anymore, but younger ones are starting to come and contribute.
“It is amazing that it is growing,” Leonard said. “You would think after 28 years that it would be done or shrinking. People look forward to it. Whenever I see people around town, we talk about it and they are excited to re-unite.”
Shirley Baker, a former student of St. Anthony’s school, has something to do with the growing of the luncheon.
“Whenever I see an old classmate of mine around town, I tell them to come to the next one,” Baker said. “The school was excellent and it was a faith-filled parish. In 8th grade, I was in charge of the choir and we had Mass every day.”
Baker was a part of the 1963 8th grade class, which graduated about 40 students, and many of them went on to attend Duluth Cathedral High School.
Baker and some classmates are currently in the process of trying to set up a St. Anthony’s class of 1963 reunion. They are going to have a meeting to decide on how to get a hold of people. They are considering an ad in the newspaper.
Although the members of St. Anthony’s have endured hardships, there is always a silver lining. Almost 30 years removed, they can still be considered a parish without having a church.
The next luncheon is scheduled for the first Thursday of May.