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.

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