Named after St. Anthony of Padua, a revered religious figure that was named a Doctor of the Church the year before the original edifice debuted, the St. Anthony Shrine at Downtown Crossing is home to Franciscan monks who follow in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy as well as animals and nature. A mainstay for more than half a century, this house of worship and outreach center is a prime gathering place for people of faith.
The Franciscans have a history in the Boston area dating back to the mid-19th century, and even had a hand in founding the first Italian parish in the United States, St. Leonard’s Church, in Boston’s North End in 1873. It wasn’t until many decades later that a permanent home for this community began to take shape in the heart of the city. In the midst of World War II, the idea for a downtown ministry was first discussed by the archdiocese, and, not long after, property along Arch Street was purchased. In 1947, on Ash Wednesday, the structure at 103 Arch Street made its debut, and, later, the friars moved into their new living spaces. The shrine was immediately a hive of activity: in the first year, there were 300,000 confessions heard, and, after three years, there were more than 1,500 people attending mass each day. However, the need for a new shrine soon became clear, so the current one at 100 Arch Street (above, circa the 1950s) was built, opening to the public in late 1954.
Today, although the number of friars at St. Anthony Shrine has been reduced from its peak years, it still, through its clergy and lay staff, continues to serve the public through programs that provide help to the homeless, the grieving, the poor, those with mental and substance abuse issues, and more. Mass at St. Anthony remains a draw, especially those featuring the six-piece Arch Street Band. And this time of year, there is, of course, Christmas mass, which, as with all services, is open to the public. Check stanthonyshrine.org for the latest schedule.