St.Antony of Padua is one of the most prominent amongst the saints of the Catholic Church. He is the patron saint for a lot of purposes: for finding lost things, for begetting children and against barrenness, for students and seekers of truth, for the elderly, for deepening the faith in the Blessed Sacrament, for the protection of Fishermen, for the Franciscan guardianship of the Holy Land, for good harvest, for animals, for mariners and travelers, for the oppressed,the sick and the poor etc.
St. Antony was born as Fernando Martins de Bulhões,in Lisbon on 15th August 1195 to Vicente Martins de Bulhões and Teresa Pais Taveira. His father was the brother of Pedro Martins de Bulhões,the ancestor of the Bulhão or Bulhões family. His was a very rich family of the nobility who wanted him to become educated, and they arranged for him to be instructed at the local cathedral school. Against the wishes of his family, however, he entered the community of Canons Regular at the Abbey of St. Vincent on the outskirts of Lisbon.The Canons were famous for their dedication to scholarly pursuits, and sent the youth to their major center of studies, including the Abbey of the Holy Cross in Coimbra. There the young Fernando studied theology and Latin.
Joining the Franciscan Order
After his ordination to the priesthood, Fernando was named the guest master and placed in charge of hospitality for the abbey. It was in this capacity, in 1219, that he came into contact with five Franciscan friars who 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. Seeing their bodies as they were processed back to Assisi, Fernando meditated on the heroism of these men; inspired by their example, and longing for the same gift of martyrdom, he obtained permission from church authorities to leave the Augustinian Canons to join the new Franciscan Order. Upon his admission to the life of the friars, he joined the small hermitage in Olivais, adopting the name Antony (from the name of the chapel located there, dedicated to Saint Antony the Great), by which he was to be known.
The new Brother Antony then set out for Morocco, in fulfillment of his new vocation. Illness, however, stopped him on his journey. At this point, he decided to head to Italy, the center of his new order.
On the voyage there, his ship was driven by a storm onto the coast of Sicily and he landed at Messina. From Sicily he made his way to Tuscany where he was assigned to a convent of the order, but he met with difficulty on account of his sickly appearance. He was finally assigned, out of pure compassion, to the rural hospice of San Paolo near Forlì, Romagna, a choice made after considering his poor health. There he appears to have lived as a hermit and was put to work in the kitchen, while being allowed to spend much time in private prayer and study.
Preaching and teaching
One day, on the occasion of an ordination, a great many visiting Dominican friars were present, and there was some misunderstanding over who should preach. The Franciscans naturally expected that one of the Dominicans would occupy the pulpit, for they were renowned for their preaching; the Dominicans, on the other hand, had come unprepared, thinking that a Franciscan would be the homilist. In this dilemma, the head of the hermitage, who had no one among his own humble friars suitable for the occasion, called upon Antony, whom he suspected was most qualified, and entreated him to speak whatever the Holy Spirit should put into his mouth. Antony objected but was overruled, and his 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, Antony 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. Francis had held a strong distrust of the place of theological studies in the life of his brotherhood, fearing that it might lead to an abandonment of their commitment to a life of real poverty. In Antony, however, he found a kindred spirit for his vision, someone who was also able to provide the teaching needed by young members of the order who might seek ordination. He thereby entrusted the pursuit of studies for any of his friars to the care of Brother Antony. From then on his skills were used to the maximum by the Church. Occasionally he took another post,as a teacher, for instance, at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse in southern France, but it was as a preacher that Antony revealed his supreme gift.
In 1226, after attending the General Chapter of his order held at Arles, France, and preaching in the French region of Provence, Antony returned to Italy and served as envoy from the general chapter to Pope Gregory IX. At the Papal court, his preaching was hailed as a “jewel case of the Bible” and he was commissioned to produce his collection of sermons, Sermons for Feast Days (Sermones in Festivitates).
Antony became ill with edema and, in 1231, went to the woodland retreat at Campo Sampiero with two other friars for a respite. There Antony lived in a cell built for him under the branches of a walnut tree. Antony died on the way back to Padua on 13 June 1231 at the Poor Clare monastery at Arcella (now part of Padua),aged 36.
Various miracles surround the death of Antony. One holds that when he died, the children cried in the streets and that all the bells of the churches rang of their own accord. Another legend regards his tongue. Antony is buried in a chapel within the large basilica built to honor him, where his tongue is displayed for veneration in a large reliquary. For, when his body was exhumed thirty years after his death, it was claimed that the tongue glistened and looked as if it was still alive and moist; apparently a further claim was made that this was a sign of his gift of preaching.
St.Antony’s was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on 30 May 1232, at Spoleto, Italy, less than one year after his death. His fame spread through Portuguese evangelization, and he has been known as the most celebrated of the followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is the patron saint of his adopted home of Padua, as well as of his native Lisbon, not to mention many other places in Portugal and in the countries of the former Portuguese Empire. He is especially invoked for the recovery of lost items.
Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII on 16 January 1946, St.Antony’s is titled the “Evangelical Doctor” of the Church (Doctor Evangelicus).