History of St. Anthony Catholic Church
In 1915 the St. Anthony Society was established to assist the Italian immigrants coming to Baton Rouge. The Society made a donation for the Construction of a Chapel to serve the needs of these immigrants. St. Anthony was a mission of St. Joseph. In 1920 Archbishop Shaw appointed Father Ralph Vincent Lawrence as the first Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, a parish of about 225 families. In 1922 a larger Church was constructed and in 1923 Father Thomas Colbert was appointed Pastor. He served for 25 years. St. John in the Plains, Zachary, St. Isidore, Baker and St. Francis, Greenwell Springs (now St. Alphonsus) were three missions attached to St. Anthony. A Parish Corporation was formed to handle the transactions under a charter on December 7, 1921 with the legal title of “Congregation of St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. By 1926, population was 1500 and by 1928 it was 2000. The average mass attendance on Sunday’s was recorded at 600 adults and 900 children. In 1937 the parish census showed an increase to 2800 Catholics. A third Church and a school were constructed to handle the growing congregation. Over the years the boundaries changed as new Parishes were established with the city, including St. Gerard, Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Mercy and St. Charles. The fourth Church was completed in 1953. The first Mass in the new Church was held on Christmas Eve in 1953. Several changes were at work in the 1960’s which changed the area around the church. A zoning shift from residential to industrial; construction of the I – 110 interstate, many homes were leveled and suburbs moved toward the south and east. A rebirth for St. Anthony occurred in 1988 when the Vietnamese Community became a part of St. Anthony Parish. Soon after the parish were renamed Sts. Anthony of Padua and Le Van Phung Parish. The Buildings and grounds have been transformed and a new energetic spirit is evident in this multicultural community. The Vietnamese Catholics were being welcome to St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.
The Vietnamese Catholics Coming to St. Anthony Church
Sts. Anthony of Padua and Lê Văn Phung Parish in Baton Rouge used to be called St. Anthony of Padua Parish. Besides St. Anthony, the new name also honors St. Lê Văn Phung, a Vietnamese martyr, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in June 1988. It also indicates that the parish is now the home of most of the Vietnamese Catholic community in Baton Rouge. When and how did the Vietnamese come to the parish? The story started over 35 years ago when South Vietnam was lost to the Communist from the North. In July 1975, the first 5 Vietnamese families came to Baton Rouge from refugee camps. All were sponsored by the Diocese. For the first several months, they were living in the old “white house” across the street from St. Anthony Church, which has been torn down. Among those 5 families was a widow, and one of her children was a 16 year-old boy named Than Vu who did not speak English. And, you are right; he is now Father Than Vu, the Vicar General (VG) of the Diocese of Baton Rouge and pastor of St. Aloysius. Besides those first five families, three Vietnamese priests were also sponsored by the Diocese at the same time. One of them was Fr. Paul Nguyen, whose first assignment was at Immaculate Conception Church in Lakeland, LA. Fr. Paul drove to Baton Rouge on Sunday afternoon to say Mass for the Vietnamese Catholics at St. Anthony. Later he was assigned an Associate Pastor at St. Anthony and at the same time was the chaplain of the Vietnamese Catholic Community. More Vietnamese “boat people” refugees came to town from many refugee camps in Southeast Asia during the following 15 years. In 1990 there were approximately 2,000 Vietnamese in BR, half of them were Catholics and worshiped at St. Anthony. In 1983 Fr. Joseph Nguyen from New Orleans was brought to BR by Bishop Ott when Fr. Paul retired from St. Anthony. For the first 2 years in BR, Fr. Joseph was a resident priest at Sacred Heart church and therefore the Vietnamese Catholics “moved” there. In 1985, Bishop Ott re-assigned Fr. Joseph to St. Anthony as an administrator, then a pastor, and the Vietnamese Catholics moved back to St. Anthony with him. St. Anthony has officially become the Vietnamese Catholic Community’s home parish. Since then, Fr. Joseph has retired and became the Superior General of the Vietnamese in the United States, and Fr. Francis Minh Nguyen became the next pastor. He is the priest responsible for all of the renovations that you see today. Fr. Joseph requested the help of Fr. Francis who was with us about seven years to oversee the building of the Retreat Center in Texas for the Vietnamese. Fr. Dominic Chin Pham replaced Fr. Francis Nguyen in which he only was with us for about a year. Fr. Dominic was requested to go to the Philippines by Fr. Joseph for the Formation of Priest for the ICM Religious Order. The current pastor is Fr. Peter Tan Viet Nguyen, who came less than a year ago from Dallas, Texas. Under Fr. Joseph the Vincent Liem Sunday School was established. Now the school has 350 students from 1st to 12th grades. Classes meet from 10 AM to 12:30 PM on Sundays except during the summers. From 1990 until about 2005, hundreds of Vietnamese came to Baton Rouge every year in the “H.O. Program” which allowed former South Vietnamese officials and military personnel and families to come to the States. As a result, the Vietnamese Catholic Community grew to the size of about 3,000 (?) now. Currently, Sts. Anthony of Padua and Lê văn Phung parish has 597 Vietnamese families registered as members among the total of 733 families. The Vietnamese live everywhere in Baton Rouge and the surrounding towns; of course many of them have chosen to register at other Catholic churches near their homes.