Our Parish History
A year before Florence became a township, the Catholic Church in the Pee Dee had its beginnings. The first Mass was celebrated in a small frame house on West Cheves Street. From these humble origins, a handful of South Carolina Catholics from Charleston and a room in one of their homes, St. Anthony Parish eventually came to be.
Over the years, the parish has changed greatly, both in the families which comprise it and the buildings which house it, but the faith and dedication of the members through both difficulties and prosperity have remained constant. St. Anthony Parish had its first permanent home in 1884, when a small wooden chapel was built on the corner lot on Palmetto and Irby Streets. By 1900 the chapel was enlarged. The parish grew along with the city of Florence, however, and within fifteen years, the chapel was inadequate to meet the needs of the congregation. Under the direction of Father Charles DuBois Wood, the pastor, the cornerstone for a new church was laid on the same location as the chapel.
The new church, patterned after a thirteenth century Gothic cathedral in Florence, Italy, was a city landmark for fifty-five years. St. Anthony Parish School was opened in 1956 in a building adjacent to the church. It was enlarged in 1960. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur staffed the school until 1989.
In 1970, fire destroyed the church building, and the parish was without a permanent home for two and a half years. The Capri Theater and the Florence Little Theater offered their facilities for Sunday Mass until a new church could be erected. Because of the limited-space of the parish’s downtown location, a new site was chosen for St. Anthony Church and School. Groundbreaking took place in April of 1972 for the new building on Hoffmeyer Road, where there was room for expansion for the ever-growing parish. Today on this eleven acre spot, church building, school, parish family center, and rectory are located.
St. Anthony Parish has been fortunate in having the leadership of far-sighted pastors who have generously given of themselves and their wisdom in guiding the parish. The first priests to minister to the parish were missionaries based in Charleston who traveled to Florence and ministered to the young congregation intermittently. In 1893, Father J.E. Chapius became the first resident pastor, but his stay was a short one before he was transferred.
St. Anthony’s second pastor remained in that position for twenty-five years,though the parish had to share him with a number of other congregations during that time. Father Charles DuBois Woods came to Florence with youth, energy, and dedication. He secured the support of the city fathers and businessmen of all faiths in the construction of the Irby Street church, which was named “St. Anthony’s All Souls’ Memorial Church” in honor of all who contributed to its realization.
A History Timeline of St. Anthony Catholic Church & School
1870 First Mass is celebrated in Florence in a house on the one hundred block of Evans Street.
1871 Parish of St. Anthony of Padua is canonically established, but Mass continues to be celebrated in a parishioner’s home.
1873 Catholics purchase a lot on the comer of Irby and Palmetto Streets for a future church.
1886 Bishop H.P. Northup dedicates a small wooden chapel on the lot. Father J.E.Chapius is appointed first resident pastor.
1893 Father Charles Dubois Wood is appointed second resident pastor and begins to raise funds for a new church.
1917 The new church, St. Anthony’s All Souls’ Memorial Church, built on the same comer lot as the old, is dedicated on November 17.
1956 St. Anthony’s parochial school, staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is established in a three-room building adjacent to the church.
1970 On September 15th, a fire engulfs and completely destroys the church building.
1972 The parish breaks ground for a new church on Hoffmeyer Road.
1973 On Easter the first Mass is celebrated in the new building.
1974 A rectory and elementary school are built on the new parish site.
1992 The Family Center is added to the buildings on the parish campus.
1997 St. Anthony School expands with an addition to the school building.
2003 The Parish opens the Office of Hispanic Ministry