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THE MOST LOVED FRANCISCAN

Father Francis's picture
Saint Anthony of Padua

Saint Anthony of Padua lived only 36 years but in that short life won the respect and affection of thousands of people, and gained a reputation for holiness which has endeared him to many more.

Born to a noble family in Lisbon in 1195, only 14 years after the birth of St. Francis of Assisi, he was given the name Ferdinand and educated by the cathedral clergy. When he was 15 he joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine but asked to be transferred to Coimbra, about 100 miles away, to devote himself to prayer and study. There an event occurred which was to change the course of his life. The five bodies of the first Franciscans who were martyred in Morocco were carried through the town and this inspired him to follow their example. The quiet security of monastic life seemed less attractive to him and he saw an opportunity for real missionary work. The following year, at the age of 26, having been given the habit and the name Anthony, he was sent on a preaching mission to Morocco, following in the footsteps of the martyrs he had so much admired.

Unfortunately he fell ill almost as soon as he arrived in Africa but God had other plans for Anthony: returning home his ship was caught in a storm and he found himself in Sicily. Hearing that a General Chapter was about to be held in Assisi he immediately made his way there so that he could meet the holy founder Francis himself.

Subsequently Anthony was sent to a remote friary near Bologna, happy to work at menial tasks in the kitchen until he was once again hauled out of obscurity. An ordination was to be held but no-one was prepared to preach. Recognising that there was more to Anthony than met the eye the Guardian called upon him to perform this task. To the astonishment of everyone Anthony preached eloquently and fervently. When St. Francis heard about this bright young friar he commissioned him to preach throughout Italy and to teach theology to his fellow friars. At the same time Francis warned Anthony not to allow study to extinguish the spirit of prayer.

Acting on this advice he spent many hours each night in prayer, even after a long working day. He placed greater value on the salvation of souls than on learning, and so devoted the rest of his life to travelling and preaching. His success was enormous. Churches were not large enough to holds the crowds who came to hear him. There were many conversions and enemies were reconciled. He radiated holiness so that his very presence was sufficient to bring sinners back to confession.

Several remarkable stories are related about Anthony. In the coastal town of Rimini, he was preaching to heretics but they walked away and he turned to the fish in the sea. Enormous shoals were drawn to him and on seeing this the heretics returned begging Anthony to teach them.

One night Count Tiso was passing by Anthony’s room when he saw a powerful light coming from within. He immediately rushed into his room fearing that it was a fire. Instead he saw Anthony standing there holding the Christ Child. He seemed almost embarrassed at having been seen in such intimate closeness to Jesus and made Count Tiso promise not to tell anyone until after Anthony’s death. He kept his promise but as soon as he did share this experience the news spread. As a result we have the statue of St. Anthony holding a book on which sits the infant Jesus.

Anthony chose as his base the Friary in Padua, preaching in the city and greatly loved by everyone. He died on 13 June 1231 having spent ten years in the Franciscan Order. The people of Padua were grief-stricken. The very next year Anthony was canonised by Pope Gregory IX.

Many titles have been given to St. Anthony, including Wonder-worker and Hammer of the Heretics, patron saint of Padua and Portugal. He should be the patron saint of all who feel lost and abandoned. Anthony put his life in God’s hands and God used him to bring in a great harvest of souls. Popular devotion has nominated him as the finder of lost objects. May he help us to find our way in life, trusting completely in God as he did.

Saint Anthony of Padua, pray for us.