It all began with a generous donation of land to the St. Louis Archdiocese in the early decades of the 19th century, approximately 60 miles southwest of the city. A small mission church was established on this land to reach out to the local Catholic population. For nearly five decades, the rural mission remained unnamed, until a traveling priest, Fr. Marrs, dedicated the new faith community to the patronage of St. Anthony of Padua in 1861.
The future parish was named after one of the most popular saints of all time. St. Anthony was a Franciscan monk renowned for his extraordinary preaching, defense of Catholicism, and love for the poor in the early 1200s. The faith community’s first home consisted of logs erected on a stone foundation where the present St. Anthony Cemetery is on Acid Mine Road. The construction was completed in 1862. As new families came into the area and membership expanded, so did the need for a larger church.
In 1891, St. Anthony was inaugurated as an official parish and completed a
larger church building located south of where the current church stands.
Fr. Joseph Little, who became the pastor in 1919, founded St. Anthony
Catholic School with the help of a benefactor who donated a two-story,
10 room house to the parish. The home was remodeled into student
classrooms and a convent for the Dominican Sisters. In 1936, St. Anthony
saw the first graduating class pass through its doors.
Even the Great Depression and World War II could not halt the expansion of Sullivan’s first parochial school. By 1941, the new pastor, Monsignor Joseph O’Toole, saw the need for a large, more stable building. He traveled to Washington D.C. to obtain government permission to construct a non-military building during the war. In order to raise the money needed, Monsignor inaugurated the first St. Anthony Picnic which still continues annually. In 1946, Monsignor O’Toole was called back to his former parish and Fr. Arthur Ryan made his debut as the new pastor. The Sisters of Notre Dame also took up residence at the parish and taught the children of Sullivan until 1995.
Under the leadership of Fr. Clarence Winkler from 1958-1976, St. Anthony replaced the summer Public School of Religion program that was started in the 20s, with a weekly program taught by St. Anthony School staff members and volunteers from the church. Fr. Winkler also launched plans for a new church building which was completed and dedicated in 1964.
The 100th anniversary of the Catholic community was celebrated in 1991 by Fr. Ted Brunnert, who joined St. Anthony as pastor in 1989. Under his leadership, plans for a significantly larger and fully-equipped school building were realized. The new facility, completed in 2003, consisted of additional classrooms, a new media center and library, and the school’s first gymnasium.