History of St. Anthony Church, Vakola
The Parish of St Anthony Church, Vakola (erstwhile Vancola), today famously regarded as one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Mumbai stands testimony to the fervor and zeal of its parishners, who over the years cheerfully gave and continue to give beyond capacity to make this parish as vibrant as it is today. Its legacy extends over a century dating back to 1914 when Fr. Cyril Alex D’abreo, the then assistant parish priest at Kalina, realized the need for a place of sanctity and fellowship for the villagers of Vancola. At that time the village of Vancola comprised of about 200 – 300 families, mostly farmers of the East Indian community. The rice fields were adorned with clusters of houses with country tiled roof, mud floorings and small verandas overlooking the narrow lanes that wriggled through the village. Mass and other community activities were celebrated in a small hut in the village. Mr. John Rodrigues popularly known as ‘Jamboo’ donated the land for the chapel but since the World War 1 was underway at that time, building material was scarce and it took 7 years to construct the chapel building. The chapel was dedicated to St Anthony and blessed on 1st January 1921.
In 1937 Rev. Fr. Mendes was put in charge of catering to the spiritual needs of the people. His good work slowly led the place as a separate and autonomous ‘Parish of St. Anthony’ on the 1st July 1945 with Rev Fr. Cyril D’souza appointed as the first parish priest. With the spiritual needs having been taken care of, it was then necessary to shift focus to the developmental aspect of the parish. Education was envisioned as the top priority by Rv.fr. Micheal Rego who set up St Anthony’s School with two classrooms in the parochial house.
The Church of St Anthony stood next to a small pond which was later reclaimed in 1958 by Rev. Fr. Ayres Fernandes with the help of M/S Vincent and George Rodrigues who bore the total cost of the expansion. It was in 1963 that Msgr. Alfred Augier, who is regarded as the architect of the of the Church of St Anthony, designed the front portion of the church. He also built a two-storied presbytery for the priests of this Parish. He also separated the then co-education institution at St. Anthony’s by building a convent house to accommodate the sisters of St Charles, a congregation that helped nurture his dream for better education.
Msgr. Nelson Mascarenhas who succeeded Msgr. Alfred Aguiar in 1968 build the whole north wing of the church, renovated and enlarged the school hall, extended the presbytery to three floors and joined the parish residence to the school building. It was during his tenure that Vakola witnessed “the Tonian Fair” one of his major fund raising projects. He was also instrumental in starting the Yogi Raj Ashram and Prabhu Yeshu Centre. The church was remodeled in 1977 to suit the changed liturgical norms and promote an atmosphere of greater prayer and worship.
Today the Church of St Anthony stands tall in its grandeur and is acknowledged as one of the most vibrant and largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Mumbai. The church expands an area of _____ sq. meters and caters to the spiritual needs of over 18000 Catholics, which continues to grow. The dominant East Indian community is now integrated with a larger and more cosmopolitan catholic population from other states across India including Goa, Mangalore, Kerala and the North-Eastern states.