In 1914 a group of people, residing in the city of Hackensack, founded the Independent National Roman Catholic Church of Saint Anthony of Padua. Founders of the church, accustomed to having their church in their immediate neighborhood, as in their native Italy, had unsuccessfully petitioned the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark to establish a church in the vicinity of the present building. At the time the nearest Roman Catholic parish was St. Mary’s on Hudson St., a considerable distance from the homes of the mostly pedestrian immigrants.
A priest of the Newark Archdiocese, the Reverend Anthony G. Lenza, who had friends in Hackensack, was informed of the petitioners predicament and shortly thereafter, was persuaded to serve as the church’s first pastor and to establish the church against the orders of his ecclesiastical superiors. Father Lenza was immediately suspended from his priestly duties by the Roman Catholic archdiocesan authorities. He continued, nevertheless, to minister to the neophyte congregation as the church struggled against formidable opposition and financial crises. In September of 1924, St. Anthony’s Church was declared bankrupt and forced to close.
Just before Holy Week of the following year, the Italian-American congregation, deprived of spiritual leadership for more than six months, appealed to Archdeacon Elmendorf of Christ Church, Hackensack, for assistance with the provision of the Holy Week Liturgies. Father Elmendorf contacted the then Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese, Dr. Stearly, and informed him of the congregation’s unusual dilemma. Bishop Stearly communicated at once with the General Missionary for the Italians in his diocese, the Reverend Joseph Anastasi, asking him to look into the problem and to try to help in any way he could.
The Archdeacon and Father Anastasi approached Hackensack Attorney William DeLorenzo, who had handled the foreclosure proceedings and was still in possession of the keys to the church. The attorney agreed immediately to reopen the church for the observance of Holy Week; Father Anastssi would celebrate.
On Easter Monday of 1925, a delegation of parishioners appealed to Father Anastasi to continue his ministry at St. Anthony’s. To each of them his presence had been an answer to their prayers. Father Anastasi agreed to speak with his bishop at his earliest convenience and to report the bishop’s decision to the congregation at once. Bishop Stearly continued to give assistance to St. Anthony’s for three months. At the end of this period, further continuance of assistance would again be considered.
Before the end of these three months, however, the congregation petitioned the Bishop of the Diocese of Newark to be received into The Episcopal Church. Col. Leigh K. Lydecker, a member of the Diocesan Board of Missions and a vestryman of Christ Church, Hackensack, undertook the settling of all legal and financial problems. On August 6, 1925, the Feast of the Transfiguration, the congregation became The Episcopal Church of Saint Anthony of Padua. The following month the church was officially received into the Diocese of Newark by Bishop Stearly. By the end of 1925, St. Anthony’s was designated an organized Mission; Father Anastasi was appointed the church’s first Vicar. It was three years after the beginning of his ministry that the present edifice was completed.
Today the people of St. Anthony’s have embarked upon another stage in the life of their unique church. After 53 years of fervent prayer and willing sacrifice, Father Anastasi’s dream of the incorporation of the church as a parish became a reality. On the Third Sunday of Easter, April 9, 1978, the Right Reverend, the Bishop of Newark, presided at a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate this significant step. The Rector, the Reverend Marshall J. Vang, who initiated the intricate process of parish incorporation shortly after his arrival in February of 1977, as the celebrant.