The history of the St. Anthony DiPadova Society traces it’s roots back to the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia in the early parts of the twentieth century where many of the founders of the Society originated and previously immigrated.
As the area of Southwest Philadelphia was being developed many first generation Italian immigrants began to move into the newly developing area from Grays Ferry and other parts of South Philadelphia. As there was no Catholic Church in the area, the Italian Catholic immigrants either had to belong to Most Blessed Sacrament or St. Clement Parishes, which were the only Catholic Churches at the time.
In 1919, the Catholic Parish of St. Barnabas was founded at 63rd & Buist Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia. Three years later, and as a result of the Italian community beginning to build in the area, the St. Anthony DiPadova Society was formally incorporated and born.
The Society was founded by 21 first generation Italian immigrants whose names are:
- Salvatore Caputo
- Pio Alessandrino
- Francesco Cerbo
- Matteo DiMauro
- Matteo DiGrazia
- Michele DiGrazia
- Teodoro Dezzi
- Vincenzo Dezzi
- Feliciano A. Cerone
- Gaetano Giannotti
- Pasquale Grandizio
- Vito Luviso
- Pasquale Laucello
- Vincenzo Meola
- Giuseppe Petrosini
- T. D’Alessandro
- Rocco Iannelli
- Antonio Liberato
- Amato Iuliano
- Pasquale Pepe
- Luigi Papa
Most of the members lived in the area bounded by 61st & 63rd Streets, Grays Avenue & Elmwood Avenue.
The original purpose of the Society was for it’s members to gather fraternally in a civic spirit to foster and propagate fraternal principles which will help and aide it’s members in case of death or disability.
These principles were important to these first generation immigrants as they were foreign to this new land (US), foreign to the new area where they wanted to settle and raise their families, did not speak the language and wanted to maintain their customs and traditions which they brought from the old country. Members would pay dues and the dues would assist them and their families during stressful times as death and sickness with them and/or their families.
One of the customs which the Italian Catholic immigrants brought with them and was important was the unique richness of their Italian Catholic heritage . One facet of this was in the celebration of their Feast Days. To this end the St. Anthony Society’s Charter required all members to participate in preparation and celebration of the Feast Day in honor of their Patron, St. Anthony DiPadova.
Originally, this celebration was held at the new Catholic church of St. Barnabas. This, from the years 1922 to 1932. Replete with Italian Marching Bands, music, Solemn Mass and Procession, the St. Anthony DiPadova Society began to make it’s mark in the area.
However, as more and more first generation Catholic Italians moved into the area, the Italian Catholic Community became desperately in need of an Italian Catholic Church and/or at least an Italian priest to minister to their needs.
The Archdiocese realized the need for this and in 1932, dedicated the new Catholic Parish of Our Lady of Loreto. The original Church located at the corner of 63rd & Grays Avenue, eventually moved in 1938 to 6214 Grays, close to the burgeoning Italian Community in the area, where a new church was built.
As such, the St. Anthony DiPadova Society subsequently moved it’s religious celebration to Our Lady of Loreto Parish and remained there for many years.
Over the years, the St. Anthony Celebration assisted and guided Our Lady of Loreto’s first and second Pastor’s, Father Matthew Amateis and Father Ildebrando Schifalacqua to raise money from their Feast Day celebrations and build their first church, as mentioned above, and subsequently, school, convent and new rectory in 1959/1960 located in the same area as the church.
The Celebration of the Feast of St. Anthony was and still is the biggest mainstay of the Society. Over the years, the Celebration was incorporated together with a Parish Carnival at Our Lady of Loreto. The Carnival originally lasted nine days with the St. Anthony Celebration being held the last two days of the Carnival. However, during the building period of the area in the 1940’s through the 1960’s, the Feast Celebration brought more entertainment into the carnival every evening and further, brought as many as 10,000 people to the area for the last day/night of the event, which included Mass, procession, band concerts and the finale, the fireworks.
The Parish Church of Our Lady of Loreto closed in June, 2003 and since then, ironically, the Feast of St. Anthony has now found it’s home back at St. Barnabas Church once again.
Membership and participation of membership has increased over the years and the St. Anthony Society continues with new and improved activities each year which now include, Italian Nite, held each March, Golf Outing in September and of course the Feast of St. Anthony, still held in June. In addition, money raised for all of the events are distributed to the Church where the celebration of the Feast is held, other Churches in the area, Seminaries and the needy during the holidays. We continue to uphold the tenets of the Society and it’s members and are fortunate to be able to keep the rich and unique tradition of celebrating St. Anthony to the community.