“The Parish Community of Saint Anthony of the Desert is like a little house of God.”
Bishop Emile Eid, procurator of the Maronite Patriarch in Rome; promoter of justice in the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature of the Roman Catholic Church.
The church chronology details the highlights of events in our history and is eloquent testimony of a community that has, through hard work, sacrifice, devotion and commitment, and with inspired leadership, achieved the fulfillment of their dream nurtured in the hearts of those early pioneers who emigrated from Lebanon in 1900 to settle in Fall River.
Through the grace of God, Saint Anthony’s has prospered and grown from a nucleus of perhaps 40 families in 1911 to a community of 350 families in 1986. From our first home of worship, a small wooded dwelling on 286 Jenks Street, purchased by Rev. Gabriel Corlemaz of Boston who spent three months in Fall River, we relocated to a charming stucco church at 359 Quequechan Street, completed in May of 1930 and dedicated on Sunday, October 12 of that year under the pastorate of our late, beloved Chorbishop Joseph Eid, to our present church, a handsome edifice located at North Eastern Avenue which was dedicated in October of 1975 and where we worship under the guidance of our dear pastor Monsignor Norman Ferris.
Interwoven in the fabric of this history are countless stories od deeds and daring, service and sacrifice, action and accomplishment, faith and vision, and of the good priests who, each in his own time and in his own manner, made significant contributions that propelled the community forward to greater social, economic spiritual heights.
Reverend Ignatius Sayegh, of the “golden voice”, who had been called from Lebanon, administered the parish until 1920; Father Caesar Phares, from 1920 to 1920. During his administration the property of Jenks Street on which the old church stood was sold and subsequently the land on Quequechan Street was purchased.
Monsignor Elian Hayek spent a short time with Father Phares in 1929 then left to assume duties in Youngstown, Ohio. June 23, 1929 is perhaps the most significant date in our church history for it marks the arrival to our parish of Chorbishop Joseph Eid, our late, beloved pastor, of blessed memory. He had degrees from St. Joseph’s Beirut, a doctorate in theology and philosophy from Rome where he was ordained in 1924 and he served five years as a priest in Sidon, in the Diocese of his birth. Father Eid was an accomplished Linguist, a prolific author, a noted biographer, an expert in Canon Law, and a true scholar. His cultural work was later to receive official recognition from the governments of France and Lebanon. His book, “The hermit of Lebanon, Blessed Sharbel”, was vital of furthering the cause of Saint Sharbel’s canonization in Rome in 1977. Father Eid possessed, besides a keen intellect, a warm sense of humor and a deep humility. He has a visionary and a hard working parish priest and the impetus of all the achievement of Saint Anthony of the Desert. Throughout his lifetime he constantly projected his beloved church and adjacent buildings now stand was purchased by Father Eid many years ago, an example, of his foresight, vision and concern for his congregation. His death from a heart attack in October 1970 while of a pilgrimage to Lebabon shocked and saddened the population of our city. He left a legacy of love and an example of excellence that, like a diamond, is precious, brilliant and enduring.
The tragedy of the death of Father Eid was somewhat alleviated by the comforting presence of Reverend Norman Ferris, who in August of 1970, was assigned by His Excellent, James L. Connolly, Bishop of the Diocese of Fall River, to administer the needs of Saint Anthony while Father Eid was in Lebanon. Father Ferris had served seventeen years as a priest in the Latin Rite at St. Mary’s Church in Taunton. He was a close friend and protégé of Father Eid. Serving at St. Anthony’s for many years as an altar boy in his youth and, later as a priest, when visiting here from Taunton, accompanying Father Eid and assisting him in various parish functions. A devout and serious young man, Father Ferris had a calling to the priesthood at an early age and at the time of crisis, our parish community felt comfortable and confident under the leadership of young Father Ferris.
On July 2, 1971, tragedy again struck when the little church on Quequechan Street was ravaged by fire set by vandals. The awesome task of building a new church and unifying the despairing congregation was left to the capable Father Ferris and under his guidance a beautiful new church on North Eastern Avenue was dedicated on October 22, 1978, as a “TESTAMENT TO GOD.”
After five years as the tireless administrator of his home-town church, Saint Anthony of the Desert, and now, having been granted the dual privilege of celebrating mass in both the Latin and Maronite Rite, Father Ferris on the day of the dedication of the new church, was named pastor by His Excellency, Francis M. Zayek, Bishop of the Diocese of Saint Maron.
As we celebrate our Diamond Jubilee, we are ever mindful of the priests and deacons who faithfully served Saint Anthony of the Desert and who immeasurably eased the burden of pastoral tasks; the beloved and charismatic Reverend Kenneth Michael, the scholarly “native son”, Reverend Ronald Beshara, the studious young seminarian, Reverend Michael Kail, the kindly Reverend Lawrence Michael, the dynamic and energetic Reverend David George, the dedicated and devoted Reverend William Hakeen, the friendly and personable, Reverend Anthony Spinosa. Our parish continues to be blessed with the present ministry of Dr. Andre P. Nasser, deacon, and Donald Massoud, sub-deacon.
We are especially grateful to our beloved Bishop Zayek who continues to encourage us all in our endeavors and to our brothers in the Latin Rite community and the benevolent Bishops of the Fall River Diocese with whom we have maintained strong and affectionate ties throughout the years.
Our parish community of early, hopeful immigratns triumphed in spite of economic distress, educational deprivation and social alienation. The strong bond that units the past with the present is found values bequeathed to us by the early pioneers, moral integrity, love of God and Family and the honor of hard work. Another immigrant Khalil Gibran referring to the early settlers said, “they came to America bringing with them the riches of the work of hands willed to work.” Seventy-five years of multi-faceted glitter and sparkle, like a diamond, the memories and achievement are treasured and endure like the diamond and like the diamond, our history becomes more precious with the passage of time.
Historian Mrs. Faheem J. Assad