St. Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church
By Jean M. Heimann
June 13 is the feast of one of my favorite saints — St. Anthony of Padua. He is a Doctor of the Church, a Franciscan priest known as the “Hammer of the Heretics”, the “Wonder-Worker”, and the “Living Ark of the Covenant.” Countless conversions, miraculous healings, and powerful preaching were all characteristic of his ministry.
He was born to a noble family in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal and was baptized Fernando Martins de Bulhões. He was educated by the clergy at the Cathedral of Lisbon. At the age of 15, he joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. At 17, he transferred to the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Coimba. For a period of eight years, he devoted himself solely to study and prayer.
At 25, he met five Franciscan friars who were on their way to Morocco to serve as missionaries. Five months later, when the bodies of these five were brought back from Morocco, he expressed a strong desire to suffer martyrdom for the faith in a similar manner. Stirred by their heroic example, he left monastic life and entered the Franciscan order. At the age of 26, he received the Franciscan habit in the chapel of St. Anthony of Olivares, near Coimbra. At this time, Fernando changed his name to Anthony in honor of the patron saint of the chapel. The same year he was ordained, he was sent to Africa.
However, God had other plans for Anthony. Anthony had barely set foot on African soil when he became seriously ill. Even after he had recovered, he was so frail that he boarded a boat back to Portugal. Suddenly, a storm came up, which drove the ship to the east where it found refuge on the coast of Sicily. There he was given shelter by the Franciscans of that island, who nursed him back to health. Shortly afterward, he traveled to Assisi to attend the Order’s Chapter meeting with their founder, St. Francis of Assisi. As the chapter broke up, Anthony was basically ignored by nearly everyone. However, one provincial from northern Italy, noticed him and sent him to a small hermitage, where he lived a simple life, performing menial tasks, such as gardening, cleaning, setting tables and washing dishes.
But a hidden gift was soon to materialize. Anthony and other members of his community were sent to the town of Forli for the ordination ceremony of some Dominicans and Franciscans. However, the priest who was to give the homily had become ill, and Anthony’s superior selected him to preach, encouraging him to speak whatever the Holy Spirit put in his mouth. Anthony humbly objected, but was overruled. He spoke with such eloquence that his audience was amazed and he was assigned to preach throughout northern Italy. St. Francis of Assisi himself appointed Anthony to teach theology. A contemplative at heart, Anthony consistently spent long hours in prayer prior to preaching and teaching.
Anthony was called the “Wonder Worker” for his many reported miracles. He preached to crowds in the rain, but his audiences remained dry despite the downpour.
The number of those who came to hear him was so large that no church was large enough to hold them, so he had to preach in the open air. He was so zealous in defending the truths of the Catholic Faith that many heretics were converted. This prompted the epitaph given him by Pope Gregory IX the “Ark of the Covenant.”
Once a man, who provided him shelter in his home, came upon St. Anthony and found him holding in his arms the Child Jesus, extraordinarily beautiful and encircled in heavenly light. For this reason, St. Anthony is often depicted holding the Child Jesus.
In 1227, Anthony was elected Minister Provincial of the friars living in northern Italy, yet, as always, he made the time for contemplative prayer.
In Padua, Anthony preached his last and most famous sequence of Lenten homilies. The crowds were as large as 30,000 people, many of whom had waited all night to hear him. He even required a body guard to protect him from those who sought to snatch a lock of his hair or a patch of clothing as keepsakes.
The great amount of energy he expended during the 40 days of Lent at Padua in 1231 left him extremely exhausted and so he rested at a small town near Padua. When he realized he was dying, he wanted to return to Padua, but did not make it back. Instead, he stopped at the town of Arcella. After receiving the last sacraments, he kept looking upward and smiling. When he was asked what he saw there, he answered: “I see my Lord.” Anthony died June 13, 1231, at the age of 36, only ten years after entering the Franciscan order.
Anthony was canonized in 1232, less than one year after his death, and was made a Doctor of the Church in 1946. Although he was Portuguese, St. Anthony took his name from the Italian city of Padua, where he spent most of his later years. A magnificent basilica was built at Padua in his honor; his holy relics were entombed there in 1263. From the time of his death up to the present day, many miracles have occurred through St. Anthony’s intercession.
I am ever so thankful to my dad for introducing me to this great saint, who has helped me so many times not only by finding lost items, but in helping me find myself spiritually. He continues to teach me: humility to replace my pride and the importance of submitting to God’s will, rather than my own. Despite his many gifts, St. Anthony remained a man of great holiness and humility, never taking credit for them, but always attributing them all to the Lord. Both my dad and St. Anthony were holy, humble men of God, who sought to do His will. Both have watched over me in difficult times and have protected me. This coming Father’s Day, I will be remembering both men as Fathers and as protectors of my soul.
Saint Anthony of Padua Quotes
“We spread the love of God by loving as he loves.”
“The spirit of humility is sweeter than honey, and those who nourish themselves with this honey produce sweet fruit.”
“The saints are like the stars. In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so. Yet they are always ready to exchange the quiet of contemplation for the works of mercy as soon as they perceive in their heart the invitation of Christ.”
“Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ just as travelers lean on a staff when they begin a long journey. They must have the Passion of Christ deeply embedded in their minds and hearts, because only from it can they derive peace, grace, and truth.”
Patronage and Miracles
Catholics know St. Anthony best as the patron saint of lost and stolen articles. According to one story, St. Anthony had a psalter, filled with his own notes, that a novice, leaving the monastery, took. St. Anthony prayed for its return and the novice came back, gave him his psalter, and rejoined the order.
Barren women claim St. Anthony for their patron saint as well, because of his association with the Child Jesus. From the 17th century, statues of St. Anthony holding the Child Jesus have been popular. It is believed that one night, during Saint Anthony’s lifetime, the Divine Child visited him, kissed him and told him He loved him. The story is so well loved that, aside from Mary, St. Anthony is the saint most often depicted with the Child Jesus. He is also often shown carrying a lily, a symbol of purity, innocence and integrity, most likely assigned because he was once entrusted with the Child Jesus.
As a Franciscan, St. Anthony had a special love for poor and oppressed people. Knowing this, a shopkeeper named Louise Booffier of Toulon, France, who had lost her key, prayed to St. Anthony that she would give bread to the poor in his honor, if a locksmith could open her bolted shop door without force. The miracle happened, and she founded the charity of St. Anthony Bread in gratitude. On his feast day, June 13, some churches still bless loaves of bread to be given to the poor, although the term “St. Anthony Bread” refers to any offering made in thanksgiving for a favor from St. Anthony.
St. Anthony is also the patron saint of amputees. In Padua, a young man confessed to St. Anthony that he had kicked his mother. Later, in remorse, he cut off his own foot. St. Anthony, hearing of this drastic action, came and reattached the amputated limb.
St. Anthony is, in addition, the patron saint against shipwrecks and starvation. He is the patron of: American Indians, animals, elderly people, fishermen, harvests, horses, mail, mariners, pregnant women, sailors, swineherds, travel hostesses, and travelers.