In the 19th century, the only Catholic church in the area was Saint Joseph’s in Woods Hole, which served the southern part of Cape Cod as far as Harwich, and included the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. At the turn of the century, a heavy influx of Portuguese-speaking people—a mixture of sailors and workers—, mainly from the Azorean and Cape Verde Islands, and many of them settled in East Falmouth.
In 1911, the Portuguese community established the Holy Ghost Association of East Falmouth. They gathered regularly in the Saint Anthony’s Hall on Brick Kiln Road to maintain their cultural identity, most continuing to trek each Sunday to Saint Joseph’s in Woods Hole for Mass.
As early as 1919, strawberry farmers began setting aside money from the sale of strawberries for the purpose of purchasing land to build a church. The Portuguese descendants appealed to Bishop Daniel J. Feehan of the Diocese of Fall River to send a priest to minister to them in their own language. In 1921, their prayers were answered; the Reverend Antonio M. Fortuna came to East Falmouth, celebrating Mass and other sacraments on a regular basis in Saint Anthony’s Hall. In time, the 36-acre John Crocker Estate was purchased for $5,000. The only building on the property served as the priest’s residence. With the creation of this new parish, Portuguese Catholics living across Cape Cod became communicants of Saint Anthony’s Parish. Saint Anthony’s Church was built on this property and Masses were celebrated for the first time on January 1, 1924. Within a few years, the mortgage of $42,000 was paid and the parish became free of debt.
The building now known as The Lodge had formerly been a dance hall located some 200 yards away in the center of East Falmouth village. During the winter of 1933 the building was moved to its present site and after undergoing complete remodeling, the hall was formally dedicated on January 4, 1934.
In 1946, the magnificent painting of Our Lady of Fatima hanging in the sanctuary was unveiled; the artist was Henrique Medina of Portugal.
In 1948, the present pews were installed in the church at a cost of $5,200 and the ceiling lights were replaced with the crystal chandeliers. At the same time, the ceramic Stations of the Cross were replaced with the hand carved Italian wood stations.
In 1951, the sanctuary was remodeled, a reredos was constructed, and the painting of Our Lady of Fatima was incorporated. The Portuguese Royal Shield at the top of the frame became an integral part of the sanctuary scene.
The parish continued to grow with a zealous outreach to the inactive and new parishioners in the 1960's. In the early 70's, a major builidng project expanded the seating capacity in the church by adding 2 side wings. At the same time, beautiful and unique stained glass windows were installed. Besides depicting the sacramental life of the Church, the new windows represented the various occupations of the local community, reminding the people that in living their faith in the world, they are "living sacraments" of the Church.
In 1977, the designation of St. Anthony's as a Portuguese national church was discontinued. Parishioners of all ethnic nationalities were welcomed as St. Anthony's became the church of the East Falmouth area.
Various organizations were formed over the years to unite the parish family, including the Council of Catholic Women in 1955 and the Couples Club in the mid 1970's and an Annual Fair in the summer.
New parish offices and a rectory were constructed in 1991 and the former rectory, the original Crocker farm house, was moved to Oxbow Rd. and renovated into a 2-family home.
Today, St. Anthony's Parish is home to over 1600 registered families and many summer guests. We hope you will feel welcomed and at home here at St. Anthony's.