ROCHESTER — Ray Fratta, who grew up attending St. Anthony of Padua Church, said he remembered how his parents made sure he attended Sunday Mass.
“If we didn’t get to church, we got a boot in the pants!” he said with a laugh.
By avoiding an impression in his pants, Fratta received an impression in his soul, as evidenced by the fact that at the age of 79, he’s a daily communicant.
“It starts my day off good,” he said, noting attending daily Mass has helped him deal with the ups and downs of life. He added that St. Anthony played a crucial role in forming his faith.
“It’s a beautiful place to be,” he said. “It’s home.”
Like a number of older parishioners at St. Anthony, Fratta is the offspring of Italian immigrants. These immigrants were the people who formed the membership of the Diocese of Rochester’s first-ever Italian national parish, according to The Diocese of Rochester in America 1868-1993 by Father Robert F. McNamara. The parish was founded in 1906, and Bishop Matthew H. Clark celebrated a Mass marking St. Anthony’s centennial on Sept. 9.
A former member of the parish council and past president of the parish school board, Fratta noted the centennial celebration brought back memories of his three children attending the parish school; of candy-selling drives to support their education; and of time he spent volunteering to help the parish by doing such things as painting the convent.
“We kept the thing going — it was like a family affair,” he said.
According to a parish history, St. Anthony was originally located on Lyell Avenue, but moved to Lorimer Street in the mid-1960s. Rose Marie Amico is one of the many older parishioners who have fond memories of life in both the parish’s churches. She and her husband, Michael, sent two children through the parish school, which closed in 1987. She added that she recalled doing volunteer work at the school, including recording tuition payments and helping the students put on plays. She also remembered attending parish dances.
“We were very social when we were young,” she said, adding with a laugh: “Now we can just about walk!”
Amico also said she remembered going to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve each year and listening to the hymns sung in Italian.
“It was very pretty, but I didn’t understand any (words),” she said. She added that her mother was from Italy and that her father was born in America, and that English was the primary language spoken in her home.
Another parishioner, Angela Scarpulla, attends St. Anthony with her husband, Victor, who serves as a church usher. Like Amico and Fratta, she said she considers St. Anthony an important part of her life.
“St. Anthony’s is a beautiful church, and the parishioners are friendly and loving,” she said.
Just as it welcomed Italian immigrants and their offspring 100 years ago, St. Anthony has welcomed another group of immigrants, Vietnamese Catholics who have made the parish their spiritual home. Many such Catholics fled their homeland after the communist takeover at the end of the Vietnam War, according to Deacon Hoc Nguyen.
“The communists, they don’t believe in God,” he said, noting Vietnamese Catholics hungered for the religious freedom America offered. A veteran of the South Vietnamese navy, Nguyen said he escaped death many times during the Vietnam War, a decision that inspired him to eventually become an ordained minister.
“(God) gave me a lot of blessings,” he said. “I decided to give my life to him.”
St. Anthony has been a place where Vietnamese Catholics in this area have formed a vibrant community, he said, noting the parish offers a Vietnamese Mass on Sundays, as well as catechetical formation and other activities for Vietnamese Catholics. Thang Nguyen, past president of the Vietnamese Council, said St. Anthony has been crucial to the life of the Vietnamese Catholic community.
“We really appreciate St. Anthony Parish,” he said. “They really support and help our community.”
St. Anthony belongs to the City West Catholic Community, which also comprises Holy Family and Holy Apostles churches, according to Deacon John Crego. In particular, St. Anthony has an older community of between 35 and 45 people who attend Mass every Saturday at 5:15 p.m., he said.
“The love and enjoyment they have for that parish is a heartwarming experience,” he said.
Mass attendance has declined in recent years as the parish’s membership has aged, he noted, but the parish continues to serve the community surrounding it, participating in such groups as Interfaith Action, a federation of churches and organizations that has worked to revitalize the city’s west side.
“I’ve really grown to love the people and the community,” Deacon Crego said. “I see them as a gift back to me.”