Saint Anthony of Padua
Saint Anthony of Padua, a holy miracle worker, humble preacher, and Doctor of the Church was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in Lisbon, Portugal on August 14, 1195. Born into a wealthy family, his father was a captain in the royal army in what would one day become Portugal.
Fernando’s journey as a servant of Christ began at a young age, when he left home at age 15 to become an Augustinian Canon. He studied theology and latin at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Coimbra, before being named guestmaster of the abbey at 19 years old. Around that same time, some of the first members of the Order of the Friars Minor, which St. Francis had founded in 1206 AD, traveled to Coimbra to reside in a small hermitage outside of town. Fernando was attracted to their simple, evangelical lifestyle. Around 1220 AD, some of these friars went as missionaries to preach the Gospel in Morocco, where they were brutally killed for their faith.
The bodies of the Franciscan martyrs were recovered, with their relics returning to Coimbra. Upon seeing the relics, Fernando felt an intense longing to join the Franciscan order, so that he too could set out and become one of those closest to Jesus: those who die for the Good News. Moved by the martyr’s heroic example, Fernando begged his superiors to allow him to depart, eventually receiving permission to join the Franciscan Order in their small hermitage in Olivais. He changed his name to Anthony, taken from the name of the chapel located at the hermitage, named in honor of Anthony the Great.
In the same year he joined the Order, Anthony was sent on mission to Morocco to preach to the Moors. Shortly after arriving though, Anthony was struck with a severe illness, leaving him grievously weak. Resigned to return home, he boarded a ship back to Portugal. Unexpectedly, a storm drove the ship off-course, and the boat landed in Sicily. Anthony was given shelter by the Franciscans there, eventually residing in a quiet convent near Forli, where he spent most of his time praying, reading Scripture and doing small tasks around the kitchen.
That all changed though, when Anthony attended an ordination ceremony, and the priest who was to give the sermon fell sick. One of the Franciscan superiors quickly asked the friars in attendance to fill in, but one-by-one, they excused themselves. Finally, Anthony was called upon, and in his humble nature, he accepted, and proceeded to speak with incredible eloquence, learning and passion that all in attendance were amazed.
St. Francis took notice of Anthony’s preaching abilities, and commissioned him to not only preach throughout Italy, but also to teach theology to the other friars. Many traveled from far away to hear Anthony’s preaching, which was leading way to miracles left and right. Three stories in particular helped shape the legend of St. Anthony.
First, his energetic defense of the Catholic faith led many lost heretics to return to the church, thus earning the nickname “Hammer of Heretics”.
Secondly, one novice at the hermitage decided to leave the hermitage, and stole one of Anthony’s valuable books he used for teaching. When Anthony discovered it missing, he prayed it would be found or returned swiftly. Not only did the thief return the book, but he also returned to join the Order as well!
Lastly, while staying the night at a man’s home, Anthony was found by the man holding in his arms the Child Jesus, surrounded by heavenly light. This is the reason St. Anthony is often depicted holding a young Jesus in his arms.
He led the friars in Northern Italy for many more years before settling in the city of Padua to continue preaching and serving the Lord up to his death. Anthony fell ill and on June 13th, 1231 AD, received the last sacraments, all the while smiling in the distance saying “I see my Lord”. He died at 36 years old. St. Anthony of Padua is one of the quickest canonized Saints in the history of the Catholic Church, with Pope Gregory IX declaring him among the saints the very next year. He was revered by many for helping those who had lost God find Him again, and still today, many pray to Anthony to help them in finding what is lost. In 1946, Pope Pius XII officially recognized him as a Doctor of the Church.
St. Anthony of Padua was never afraid to let the tug of God’s love on his heart lead him humbly from one adventure to the next.