That small group of parishioners was the first of the nearly 1,000 attendees who packed the church that day.
The mass was part of a weekend celebration of the 120th anniversary of the church, which continued the next day with a procession going down Sixth and Monmouth streets, near the church's location, and a celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ), in which bread and wine represent the mystery of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Inside the church, there was a great deal of activity from the staff and volunteers. They checked the altar, including the "miracle cross," which survived a fire that destroyed the church's interior, and the movable portrait of the St. Anthony of Padua that reveals underneath the Polish patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Father Joseph Urban, the pastor of St. Anthony for the past two years, barely had enough time to speak to the press as he rushed about preparing for the mass that featured special guest John J. Myers, the archbishop of the Newark Diocese to which the church belongs.
"Lots of emotion, excitement...especially for the older people," said Urban in his broken English, as he excused himself to tend to the parishioners filing into the church.
'This church was like my home'
By 3 p.m., more parishioners entered the majestic church; some went directly to sit in the pews while others took in the sights of the holy sanctuary. Near the exits on both sides of the church were altars with sets of lit candles that allowed worshippers to partake in a moment of silent prayer.
Dan Hanlon, a recent transplant from Philadelphia to Jersey City over a year ago, was attired in priestly garb as he downplayed his work before the mass, opting instead to note his admiration for the church.
"It's God's church. We're just the caretakers for the time being," said Hanlon.
Up in the balcony overlooking the front entrance, members of the Chopin Singing Society started practicing the various hymns for the religious ceremony.
Meanwhile, waiting outside the church was Mary Waldele-Munson, who traveled from Pompton Plains, where she has lived for the past 26 years, to return to the area where she grew up and to the church she called "home" during her formative years.
"This church was like my home for all those years. Some of these churches, they leave a mark on you," said Waldele-Munson, who went to the St. Anthony Grammar School, St, Anthony High School, and worked in the rectory while living on Monmouth Street with her family during the 1950s and 1960s.
Longtime parishioner and Jersey City resident Boguslawa Huang came with her daughter Julianne to celebrate the anniversary. "It's a beautiful church. This parish grows day to day. It's wonderful to see Polish, American and Filipino people come to appreciate," said Huang, who is currently the principal at the Polish Supplementary School in Jersey City, which teaches children about the Polish heritage.
Some of the students were part of a procession that entered the church from outside, dressed in traditional Polish costumes.
The anniversary mass
The procession entered the church while organ music and singing filled it.
Then Urban opened the mass and greeted the parishioners. Next came a presentation by the students of the Polish Supplementary School of a traditional offering of bread and salt.
Myers offered a prayer, which was followed by words from priests in both English and Polish.
Then the communion ensued, with almost all attendees coming up to the front of the church to receive blessings from the priests.
After the communion, Myers spoke again to the congregation. "I am proud of you for your continued service to the church," he said.
Urban spoke again in Polish and then in English. "Thank you to Archbishop John J. Myers and may this parish continue to flourish," he said.
After the service ended, some who participated were taken with the ceremony.
The crowd and the event impressed Father Michael Gubernat, a former administrator and pastor at St. Anthony Church for 15 years. "Always good to come back to see the old faces you remember," said Gubernat. "To see a very strong faith - to keep their faith and culture going, despite many obstacles."