St Anthony of Padua – more than a patron of lost things
The man who became known to the world as St. Anthony of Padua was born Fernando Bulhom in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. His father served King Alfonso I as a knight. When he was fifteen, he chose to join the Augustinian monks at San Vincente, just outside the city.
After two years at San Vincente, Fernando saw that he was being too distracted by frequent visitors from outside the monastery, so he asked to transfer to the monastery of Santa Cruz in Portugal’s capital, Coîmbra. For the next eight years he immersed himself in prayer and Scripture and became an avid student of theology and the Fathers of the Church. Most historians assume that it was during this time that he was also ordained to the priesthood.
After his ordination to the priesthood, he was named guest master and was responsible for the abbey’s hospitality. It was in this capacity, in 1219, that he came into contact with five Franciscan friars who settled in a small hermitage outside Coimbra. They were on their way to Morocco to preach the Gospel to the Muslims there. Fernando was strongly attracted to the simple, evangelical lifestyle of the friars, whose order had been founded only eleven years prior.
In February of the following year, news arrived that the five Franciscans had been martyred in Morocco, the first to be killed in their new order. When the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs went through the Portuguese city where he was stationed , he reflected on the heroism of these men. Fernando was Inspired by their example, and longed for the same gift of martyrdom. Fernando eventually received permission to leave the Abbey so he could join the new Franciscan Order. When he was admitted, he changed his name to Anthony.
Anthony then travelled to Morocco to spread God’s truth, but became extremely sick and returned to Portugal to recover. The ship they were in was blown off-course and the party arrived in Sicily, from which they travelled to Tuscany. Anthony was assigned to the hermitage of San Paolo after local friars considered his health. As he recovered, Anthony spent his time praying and studying.
An undetermined amount of time later, Dominican friars came to visit the Franciscans and there was confusion over who would present the homily. The Dominicans were known for their preaching, thus the Franciscans assumed it was they who would provide a homilist, but the Dominicans assumed the Franciscans would provide one. It was then the head of the Franciscan hermitage asked Anthony to speak on whatever the Holy Spirit told him to speak of.
The years of searching for Jesus in prayer, of reading sacred Scripture and of serving him in poverty, chastity, and obedience had prepared Anthony to allow the Spirit to use his talents. He delivered an eloquent and moving homily that impressed both groups. Anthony’s sermon was astounding to those who expected an unprepared speech and knew not the Spirit’s power to give people words.
Anthony’s sermon created a deep impression. Not only his rich voice and arresting manner, but the entire theme and substance of his discourse and his moving eloquence, held the attention of his hearers. At that point, Anthony was commissioned by Brother Gratian, the local Minister Provincial, to preach the Gospel throughout the area of Lombardy, in northern Italy. In this capacity he came to the attention of the founder of the order, Francis of Assisi.
In 1224, Francis entrusted his friars’ pursuits of studies to Anthony. Anthony had a book of psalms that contained notes and comments to help when teaching students and, in a time when a printing press was not yet invented, he greatly valued it. When a novice decided to leave the hermitage, he stole Anthony’s valuable book. When Anthony discovered it was missing, he prayed it would be found or returned to him. The thief did return the book and in an extra step returned to the Order as well. The book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna today.
Anthony occasionally taught at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse in southern France, but he performed best in the role of a preacher. Loved and respected by his Franciscan brothers, Anthony was elected provincial of the friars in northern Italy in 1227. During the next three years he also served as an envoy to Pope Gregory IX, preached throughout Italy, and wrote “Sermons for Sunday,” which were notes to aid other preachers in preparing their own sermons. On one occasion, after Anthony preached before the curia, the pope called him the “Ark of the Testament” because of his profound knowledge of the Scriptures and later commissioned him to produce a series of sermons for the Church’s feast days.
In June 1230, Pope Gregory IX released Anthony, at his own request, from his duties as provincial so he could devote his energies exclusively to preaching. From that time on he resided in Padua, a city whose people had become dear to him when he had preached to them earlier. So simple was his teaching of the Catholic Faith that the most unlettered and the most innocent could understand his messages. It is for this reason he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946.
Once, when St. Anthony of Padua attempted to preach the true Gospel of the Catholic Church to heretics who would not listen to him, he went out and preached his message to the fish. When the critics saw the fish begin to gather, they realized they should also listen to what Anthony had to say.
He was only 35-years-old when he died and was canonized less than one year afterward by Pope Gregory IX. According to a book by Father Ubaldus Da Rieti, (“Life of St. Anthony of Padua,”), there is evidence that some in the Church opposed the quick canonization, particularly a certain influential cardinal. Because of the cardinal’s objection, Pope Gregory IX (1227-41) hesitated. Soon, the cardinal had a dream that he and the pope were at the dedication of a church, but they had no relic for the altar. Nearby was a casket containing the remains of Anthony from which they extracted a relic and placed it in the altar.
Following the dream, the cardinal encouraged the pope to canonize Anthony as soon as possible. The canonization, the quickest in history, took place on May 30, 1232. Pope Gregory IX said that the world should not be deprived of venerating such a holy man who was the source of many proven miracles. Such a virtuous life cannot be hidden. Upon exhumation some 336 years after his death, his body was found to be corrupted, yet his tongue was totally incorrupt, so perfect were the teachings that had been formed upon it.
St Anthony is venerated all over the world as the Patron Saint for lost articles, and is credited with many miracles involving lost people, lost things and even lost spiritual goods. A favorite in much of the Catholic world, St. Anthony of Padua has more cities and places named after him than any other saint, a total of 68. This includes forty-four in Latin America, fifteen in the United States, four in Canada, four in the Philippines, and one in Spain. Four capes, three bays, two reefs, and two peaks also take his name. Even more numerous have been, until recently, the statues of St. Anthony in churches, where he is depicted holding the Christ child, the book of Scriptures, and a lily or a flaming torch and in one case even a serpent.
While St. Anthony is most famous for being the patron saint of lost things, he’s also the patron saint of amputees, animals, Brazil, elderly people, horses, oppressed people, poor people, pregnant women, shipwrecks, and many, many more. As one of the most popular Catholic saints, St. Anthony is well-known and well-loved.
- Compiled from various sources