As early as the 1850’s, a sizable Portuguese colony had already settled in Lowell. Its fame as one of the principal industrial centers of the world attracted them here in search of the opportunity to make a better way of life for themselves and their loved ones.
The first desire of this community was to establish a church. In January, 1901, a group of men journeyed to East Cambridge to speak to Rev. Anthony J. Pimental, who had been sent there by the Bishop of Angra, Terceira, Azores to work among the Portuguese immigrants with diocesan officials for a parish to be established in Lowell to serve the Portuguese community. The first meeting in Lowell was held in Fair Hall of Saint Peter’s Parish during February and March of 1901. Odd Fellows Hall was used until April and on May 19, 1901, the first church, a small wooden structure at Congress and Gorham Streets, purchased from the primitive Methodists, was dedicated. At that time, the parishioners numbered 950.
In 1901, Rev. Joaquim V. Rosa arrived from the island of Pico, Azores, and was appointed the first pastor. He was joined in 1905 by Rev. Paul Despouy who assisted him until 1907. Fr. Despouy was of French origin but spoke Portuguese fluently, having spent his early years in Portugal where his father served in the Diplomatic Corps.
The little church continued to serve as a house of worship until 1907 when continued migration of Portuguese necessitated the acquisition of a larger church. Under the leadership of Father Rosa, funds were raised throughout the Portuguese community for this purpose. Land on Central street was purchased and the blessing of the cornerstone, by Archbishop William O’Connell, took place on November 28, 1907. Although only the basement of the original design had been completed, the church was officially dedicated on May 30, 1908.
In 1911, Fr. Rosa returned to Pico, leaving the church in the hands of his Excellency Joseph Reed Da Silva, a native of Portugal, who had arrived to dedicate a new Portuguese church in Fall River. During that time, a crisis period developed in the Portuguese government and his Excellency deferred his departure until 1924, completing 13 years as pastor. During Bishop DaSilva’s tenure, Rev. John S. Perry served as Assistant Pastor from 1916 to 1923.
In October 1923, Rev. Joseph T. Grillo, a native of Sao Miguel, Azores, was assigned to the parish, which he served until his death in 1948. Under his leadership, the original debt was paid and the beautiful terrazzo floor was installed. During the years 1933-1935, he was assisted by Father Teofilo Oliveira.
When Father Grillo became seeriously ill in 1946, the fear that the Portuguese language would cease to be spoken in his beloved church, prompted him to write to the Bishop of Guarda in Portugal, imploring him to send one or more priests to this country. In answer to his request, Rev. John F. Silva arrived on March 1, 1947. In October of that year, he was joined by Rev. Manuel J. Cascais, now deceased, who later became Pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in Cambridge, MA.
Upon Fr. Grillo’s death on November 6, 1948, Archbishop Richard Cushing appointed Father Silva to administrator of St. Anthony’s, until his retirement, due to illness on April 2, 1978.
Under Fr. Silva’s leadership, the church underwent a complete transformation. From the original basement structure rose the modern beautiful church that stands as a tribute to him and the Portuguese community of Lowell.
During his tenure, Fr. Silva was assisted by Rev. Joseph L. Capote from 1949 to September 1950, and by Rev. Antonio Pinto who served from June 1952 until February 1954. On November 15, 1972, Rev. Eusebio Silva arrived from Portugal to serve with Father John Silva. Upon Father Silva’s retirement in 1978, his Eminence Cardinal Humberto Medeiros appointed Fr. Eusebio Silva as administrator. During this period, hundreds of new families were added to the parish due to increased immigration quotas.
In January 1989, Fr. Eusebio Silva was appointed administrator of St. Anthony’s Parish in Cambridge, MA. Rev. Antonio Pedro Pinto, a Vincentian Priest was appointed administrator, assisted by Rev. Ronald Gomes.
In 1991, Father Pinto returned to his religious order in Portugal. In July of that year, his Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law appointed Father Jose S. Ferreira as pastor of St. Anthony’s. During this time Rev. Ronald Gomes assisted him until early 1995 when he left St. Anthony’s on a leave of absence due to illness. In August of 1995, Fr. Ferreira was appointed as pastor of St. Anthony’s in Cambridge, MA.
In 1995 Rev. Francis M. Glynn was appointed pastor of St. Anthony’s in order to replace Rev. Ferreira. In 2004 Fr. Francis M. Glynn was assigned to a parish in Walthham, Mass. He was replaced by Rev. Fr. Charles J. Hughes in October of 2004.