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Chester County Press

His dream, for others

12/29/2015 11:15AM ● By Steven Hoffman

In the annals of American folklore, the attributions fly back and forth as to whether it was Mark Twain or Will Rogers who was responsible for the phrase, “Buy land. They're not making it anymore.” But giving credit to one or the other is of little value, because it's the quote that matters.

In 1959, a 137-acre patch of southern Chester County soil, just over the Delaware state line, found its way into the right hands -- those of Father Roberto Balducelli, the newly named pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Wilmington. For the next six decades, Father Balducelli helped bring his vision to life – giving Wilmington's children the opportunity to leave the city streets and enjoy the peaceful acreage of St. Anthony in the Hills. They could swim, some for the first time in their lives. They could play sports on endless green fields. They could jump on playground jungle gyms.

While the facility rose in stature and importance, it was not uncommon to see Father Balducelli fixing a leaky faucet or making repairs just hours before delivering a mass back at the parish in Wilmington. Over the course of the next six decades, St. Anthony in the Hills has become more a sanctuary than a mere summer camp.

Everyone associated with St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church knows what the preservation of St. Anthony in the Hills meant to Father Balducelli. In fact, it was Balducelli himself who began to make contact with New Garden Township, beginning in 2008, to preserve the acreage for what it was intended to be. When he died in 2013, just hours from turning 100, those who knew him understood where the tendrils of his legacy were rooted.

Over the last few years, the leadership of St. Anthony of Padua continued what Father Balducelli began, working in collaboration with New Garden Township and its Open Space Review Board. On Dec. 21, their work took a giant leap forward: The township's board of supervisors voted unanimously to enter the township into a conservation easement with the parish, thus creating the first steps to preserving St. Anthony in the Hills' 137.6 acres for eternity.

This conservation easement not only preserves what Father Balducelli first imagined at St. Anthony in the Hills more than 50 years ago, but cements the names of those at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and New Garden Township into the permanent foundation and legacy of a parish and a township for years to come.

Father Balducelli once said that a follower of Christ should dedicate themselves to the welfare of everyone. Too often, self-interest ties the hands of proper foresight and long-term vision. And yet, what this bold collaboration has done is a clear demonstration of two separate entities seeing the common good, far down the tunnel, and aiming to get there.