In 1917, after considering a number of possible locations, the Capuchins chose 45 acres in Marathon, WI as the site of their new house of studies. The new house would have as its patron, St. Anthony of Padua, the founder of the first Franciscan school. Strong community roots supported and nourished St. Anthony’s from the start. After the Capuchins purchased the property, the people of Marathon volunteered to clear the land, excavate the foundations and basement, as well as supply stones, sand, and gravel for the project.
Construction and Development of Building and Grounds:
Construction began in May of 1918, with the cornerstone being laid on July 7th of that year. Plans called for a rectangular building with a center courtyard surrounding the chapel. The south, east, and west wings were constructed first. The original building was dedicated August 15, 1919 complete with Mass and a procession through the town. The north wing was finished in 1923, completing the rectangle. The friars and students developed the grounds over the years. Numerous landscaping projects were undertaken to beautify the property. A grotto, cloister wall, and outdoor stations of the cross were also constructed.
St. Anthony’s as a House of Studies:
Until 1970, St. Anthony Friary served as a house of studies for the Capuchins. Initially instruction in philosophy and theology were provided. Eventually, St. Anthony’s became a house of theology, concentrating solely on preparatory studies for ordination to the priesthood. A large number of friars in training during the ’50s and ’60s prompted the addition of a new wing in 1963. However, a downturn in the number of friars in training in the late ’60s and a desire to give a wider exposure to the friars preparing for priesthood led to a decision to close St. Anthony’s as a house of studies in 1970.
Transition to Retreat Center:
After closing St. Anthony’s as a house of studies and considering alternative uses for the facility, the Capuchins decided to use the building and grounds as a retreat center. A number of projects were undertaken by friars and volunteers to ready the facility for retreatants and retreat ministry. In 1971, the doors of “the old monastery” (as it had come to be known in the community) opened as a full-time retreat center. That first year, 623 retreatants attended the facility’s programs. Since then, thousands of men, women, and youth have made use of St. Anthony’s for retreats and other programs.
New Lay Leadership:
In the summer of 2013, the Capuchin Province announced that they could no longer staff the center. Over 80 volunteers came together in prayer and discernment to discover ways to keep St. Anthony’s open. By October 2013, a non-profit corporation called St. Anthony’s of Marathon, Inc. was formed and purchased the property from the Province. The leadership and management of the Center transitioned to the new Board of Directors at the end of 2013.
Ministry at St. Anthony’s Today:
Today, St. Anthony’s conducts a variety of weekend, evening, and day programs to meet the diverse needs of the men, women, and youth who visit the Center. Private or personally tailored programs are also offered. The ministry and operation of the Center are accomplished as a collaborative effort of Center staff, the Board of Directors and the extended preaching staff. The heritage of generous support of the community surrounding St. Anthony’s continues today with an extended community of volunteers who provide countless hours of gracious service to the Center and its retreatants.