Not only is Saint Patrick’s the mother parish of this see city of Hartford; it is also, in a certain sense, the mother parish of the diocese itself, for, under the earlier name of Holy Trinity Parish, its history goes back to the very beginning of organized Catholicism in the State of Connecticut.“– Most Reverend Henry J. O’Brien, D.D. Bishop of Hartford, November 10, 1951
St. Patrick – St. Anthony Parish
St. Patrick-St. Anthony, Connecticut’s oldest Roman Catholic Church, is an urban ministry located in downtown Hartford. Building on our proud heritage, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the example of St. Francis of Assisi, we, as disciples of Christ by baptism, witness the Living Word of the Gospel in everyday life through worship, healing, preaching, teaching, service and daily work. Therefore, as a community of faith in service to the Archdiocese of Hartford and responding to the priorities of Holy Name Province, we welcome and extend hospitality to all people, especially the alienated and the poor.
The Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry
The Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry located in downtown Hartford strives to meet a growing demand for quality community services reaching out to a diverse population, especially the poor, the alienated and those seeking educational opportunities. The Center reaches out not only to a diverse community but to area neighborhoods, cities and towns. The Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry is a non-profit 501 (3c) that is supported through grants, fundraisers and the generosity of people who offer their financial support and volunteer to help us in building this thriving ministry.
The Intertwined Story of Three Parishes (Holy Trinity – St. Patrick – St. Anthony)
1829 Connecticut’s First Catholics
St. Patrick-St. Anthony parish has played a central role in the rich history of the Catholic Church in Connecticut since its very beginning. Located in the heart of Connecticut’s capitol city, it traces its roots back to Holy Trinity parish, the first Catholic Church in Connecticut. Holy Trinity was founded in 1829 to welcome and serve the thousands of Irish immigrants who had begun to crowd into Hartford in the mid-19th century.
In 1830, the parish purchased, with the help of new converts from local Protestant churches, the former Christ Church (Episcopal) building and moved it to the corner of Talcott and Main streets. The first Catholic school and Sunday school were instituted that same year, and the first Catholic cemetery in the state was started in 1839. A short-lived Catholic newspaper was also published from parish facilities.
1849 St. Patrick’s Church
By 1849, the little parish that had begun with 126 members, had over 1,000 and needed a larger facility. The cornerstone for the new church was laid in 1850 at the corner of Ann and Church streets, the site of our present day church. In recognition of the overwhelming Irish heritage of its members, this new church was named St. Patrick.
In 1852, the parish became the home of the first convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Connecticut, who quickly established an orphanage as well as both a day and a night school.
1853 Burned by Fire, Built by Faith
When fire destroyed the old Holy Trinity Church in 1853, numerous early church documents that had been housed there were lost. Unfortunately, fire would also visit St. Patrick’s, destroying the entire structure in an 1875 blaze. While the parishioners soon rebuilt on the same site, the interior of the graceful building was gutted by still another fire in 1956. The church you see standing today was built within its walls.
While St. Patrick’s grew, a new wave of Catholic immigrants from Italy arrived in Hartford following the Civil War. St. Patrick’s reached out to the Italian community, just as it had to the Irish, and provided a base for the early ministry to Hartford’s Italian population.
1895 Italians Arrive in Hartford
In 1895, the Hartford diocese founded a parish on Front Street near the Connecticut River that was dedicated specifically to the Italian-American community. Once again, an Episcopal Church located on Market Street would become a Catholic parish’s first home.
1898 St. Anthony’s Church
When the parish outgrew the Market Street building, a new church was built on Talcott Street and was dedicated in 1921. The Market Street structure was then used as a social center.
1935-1944 New Challenges Emerge
While fire was the bane of St. Patrick’s church, water became the bane of St. Anthony’s church. Since the current dike system on the Connecticut River had not yet been constructed, the new church was badly damaged in both the 1936 flood and the 1938 hurricane.
With education being a high priority for the families of St. Anthony’s, Fr. Andrew Kelly, one of St. Anthony’s pastors, founded The Catholic Lending Library in 1935. This was followed by the arrival of five Teachers Filippini in 1940 and the opening of St. Anthony’s School in 1944.
1950’s Migration to the Suburbs
Following World War II, many of Hartford’s people started moving to the suburbs and, as a result, St. Patrick’s membership began to decline. Then, in the 1950’s, the urban renewal project that would become Constitution Plaza, took the Italian neighborhood on Front Street and with it, St. Anthony’s Parish.
1958 Union of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parishes
In 1957, Archbishop Henry O’Brien proposed the merger of the two parishes. As St. Anthony Parish disappeared in the dust of urban renewal, its parishioners and programs moved to St. Patrick’s and on October 25, 1958, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish became official. It was this new infusion of parishioners and their generosity that was largely responsible for the rebuilding of the church after the disastrous 1956 fire.
1990 Franciscans Breathe New Life into Urban Church
The parish took on a new mission in 1990 when Archbishop John Whealon asked the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans, to take over the church as part of their ministry to the poor and marginalized in urban areas.
Their work here has been a continuation of the mission of Holy Trinity / St. Patrick / St. Anthony parishes, serving the spiritual and physical needs of the city.
While our partnership with the House of Bread is perhaps the best known of the parish’s many programs which minister to the people of Hartford, the parish sponsors over 40 other ministries that help such groups as the bereaved, those with HIV/AIDS, and the unemployed.
Today St. Patrick-St. Anthony parish, the oldest Catholic parish in Connecticut, continues to play a vital role not only in the Catholic community, but also the life of its city, just as it has for more than 175 years.
The Spirit Behind the Story
The story of any parish is the story of its people and how they built up the physical structures of their church so as to reflect both their faith and their vision for the future.
The physical structure of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church is a reflection of the solid foundation of the peoples’ faith, having survived the ravages of fire, yet still standing proud and tall. The interior of the church, adorned with exquisite stained glass windows, reflects a commitment to the traditions of the past, while a commitment to present faith life of the church is evidenced by its modern worship space.
But even older than the foundations of the church and even more forward-looking than its worship space is the spirit of the parish. It is a spirit which has united different nationalities and different traditions into a vibrant community that has withstood the ravages of history and that still stands tall as an example of the life and faith of the Catholic Church.
The parish motto “Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors” is evidenced by the openness that one readily finds at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish.
There is the openness of heart that welcomed the first converts who helped purchase the building for Holy Trinity Parish, and that welcomed both the rich and the poor of Hartford as well as various waves of immigrants. This openness continues today in the way we help the poor and marginalized of our community to find food, shelter, work and hope.
There is the openness of mind that founded the first Sunday school, the first Catholic newspaper, the first Catholic school and the first Catholic orphanage. That same openness continues today in the many ways that the parish strives to develop the faith vision of our members from our religious education programs to our various faith formation opportunities.
There is the openness of our doorways that not only warmly welcomes all who enter our church, but also urges them to go forth from here, living their faith by serving all those in need. The scope of this openness is evidenced in our recent responses to the needs of homeless women in the city of Hartford and the people of Fouji, Zoranje, Haiti, with whom we have established a Sister Parish covenant.
The History of the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry
Upon accepting the leadership for the ministries of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in 1990, the Franciscan Friars received a further mandate from Holy Name Province to establish a Franciscan Center that would have a vibrant presence in the City by offering direct services and building partnerships with other organizations that share our mission.
Established in June of 1992 in the former convent of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church the Center continues its commitment to serve those in need. At the dedication of the Center, then Holy Name Province’s Provincial Minister, Fr. Anthony Carrozzo, OFM, gave the following remarks:
“Analysis by contemporary Franciscans,” Fr. Anthony explained, “has led us to confront the growing gap of inequality, the escalating violence in our homes and streets, the racial antagonisms that harden in the face of this inequality and violence, and the ideological blocks that make conversation impossible and confrontation inevitable. Our remedy is to return to the cities as many people flee them and to preach peace and reconciliation. In this urban agenda, we are spurred on by the words of St. Francis: ‘We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart and to bring home those who have lost their way.’ That is why we have come to Hartford: to heal, to unify and to welcome.”
Having outgrown the facility and with the increased participation of the Center’s numerous programs, the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry dedicated its new facilities in April of 2000 located on the grounds of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church. Our ministry has grown enormously; our partnerships have expanded, working with day shelters, residential housing, educational institutions and the Wellness Center a collaborative ministry with University of St. Joseph.
In the mid 2000’s and 2010’s, partnering with Mercy Housing and Shelter, we turned Catherine’s Place (named after Catherine McAuley, who started the Sisters of Mercy) into a transitional residence for homeless women. This is the site of the first convent of the Sisters of Mercy in the state of Connecticut, founded May 11, 1852.
The Shelter closed in the mid 2010’s. We now partner with The Open Hearth, a shelter for men experiencing homelessness, to provide housing and ongoing support.