St. Anthony of Padua – Our Patron Saint
Fernando, the future Anthony of Padua, was born is Lisbon, Portugal around 15th August 1195. He was born in a noble family and had the privilege of studying in a prestigious school. After completing his studies, he went on to become a priest of the Augustinian Order against his family’s wishes. He joined the seminary in Lisbon and stayed there for 8 years.
In 1219 Fernando met five Franciscan friars who were on a mission to Morocco. A few months later he learned that those friars had been killed. Fernando was so impressed by their martyrdom that he decided to become a Franciscan friar himself, and exchange the comfortable Augustinian habit for the rough, Franciscan sack cloth. He also changed his name to Anthony in honor of St. Anthony of Egypt. He was eager to sacrifice his life for God, just like those five friars and so he asked to be sent to Morocco. But God had another plan for him. Shortly after reaching Africa he fell seriously ill and had to return home. On his voyage, a violent storm diverted his ship to Sicily.
At Assisi, Anthony made friends with Friar Graziano de Bagnacavallo. When Graziano learned that Anthony was also a priest he decided to bring him to Friary of Montepaolo, near the city of Forli. One day Anthony was asked to preach at an ordination. As soon as he began preaching, those present were surprised by his wisdom & faith and his fame spread far and wide. He was then entrusted the role of teaching theology at the Friary. Anthony fulfilled his role by composing sermons for instructions of the friars. He was truly a tireless preacher and he went on from place to place instructing through preaching.
Anthony worked many miracles, like the so-called ‘Miracle of the mule’, which is said to have taken place in Rimini in Italy. Anthony was challenged by a heretic who claimed that the Eucharistic host was not the body of Christ. This heretic told Anthony that he would starve his mule for 3 days and then lay a pile of hay in front of the mule, just next to a consecrated host. When the two options were brought before the starving animal it knelt before Christ in the Eucharist and refused the hay. In this way, the heretic believed. He also performed the ‘Miracle of fish’ where when he was preaching in Rimini, the city was filled with heretics so no one wanted to hear him. He therefore when to the Marecchia river and called out to the fish in the sea. Immediately, thousands of fish swam towards him slightly lifting their heads above water to hear his words. This miracle resulted in the conversion of many heretics. It is also said that Anthony brought back to life a little child Tomasino, who had fallen in the water and drowned. The child’s distraught mother ran to Anthony and promised him that if he managed to save the child’s life, she would donate her son’s weight in bread to the poor. And so it was. This episode was the origin to the tradition of donating bread to the poor in gratitude for St. Anthony’s intercession.
Anthony was a fearless preacher and always condemned those who lent out money to the poor at high interest rates. Those unfortunate to receive money from them were unable to pay up their debts and ended up in jail. Anthony was not afraid to stand up in favor of the poor and oppressed. He sternly reproached Ezzelino de Romano, a tyrant money lender who refused to convert. Ezzelino in his plan to kill Anthony invited him over and offered him food that was laced with poison. But Anthony, knowing well about the plan consumed the food and the miracle was that the tyrant, instead of having Anthony killed, allowed him to go free.
Anthony spent the last months of his life at Campsampiero praying and mediating. He did not want to leave the people without a shepherd and so he built himself a roof on a walnut tree from where he preached to the crowds that had flocked to see him. By now Anthony’s health was failing, so he asked to be taken back to his own convent in Padua. Anthony died on 13th June 1231. The news of his death was spread by children, who shouted, “The saint is dead” insisting he be made a saint immediately. Anthony was in fact proclaimed a saint on 30th May 1232, only 11 months after his death.