Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor

Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal, about the year 1195 to a very wealthy family, the son of Martim Vicente de Bulhão and Teresa Pais Taveira, who wanted him to become a noble. However, Anthony had other ambitions. Against the wishes of his family, he entered the Augustinian Abbey of St Vincent on the outskirts of Lisbon. The Canons Regular of St Augustine, of whom he was now a member, were known for their dedication to scholarly studies. Anthony studied Scripture and the Latin classics. During this time he was constantly visited by friends and relatives, bringing expensive gifts and news from their social world which he found very disturbing. His studies suffered and he could find no peace. He persuaded his superiors to transfer him to the Augustinian Santa Cruz Monastery (Monastery of the Holy Cross) in Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal, to continue his studies there.

Following his ordination to the priesthood, Anthony became responsible for hospitality at the monastery. It was then, in 1219, that he came in contact with five Franciscans who were going to Morocco to preach to Muslims. Anthony found the simple lifestyle of the Franciscans highly attractive. In February of the following year, it was learned that the five Franciscans had been martyred in Morocco. Anthony was deeply struck by their heroism and felt called by God to leave everything and follow Jesus. He got permission from his superiors to transfer to the Franciscans.

In the summer of 1220, he received the Franciscan habit and began to study the teachings of the Founder, Francis of Assisi. He took the name Anthony in honour of St Anthony the Great, to whom the Franciscan hermitage where he was living was dedicated. Soon afterwards, he set off for Morocco with another friar with the intention of preaching the Gospel there. However, he became so ill on his arrival, that he had to return to Portugal.

On the way back, his ship was driven by a storm to the coast of Sicily and landed at Messina. From there Anthony made his way to Assisi in northern Italy and asked to be admitted to a friary there but, because of his sickly appearance, they were reluctant to accept him. And he had told them nothing about his studies. So he was sent to the rural hospice of San Paolo, near Forli in the Romagna, where a priest was needed just to say Mass for the Franciscan brothers. There he lived the life of a hermit and worked in the kitchen.

On one occasion when there was an ordination ceremony, many Dominican friars had been invited. It was expected that one of them – the Dominicans specialised in preaching – would give the homily, but they had come unprepared, presuming that one of the Franciscans would preach. The superior felt that the only person in the community who was in any way qualified to preach was Anthony and, in spite of his objections, he was called on. To everyone’s amazement, his sermon and his insights into the Gospel made a deep impression on those present – both the quality of his voice, his learning and his eloquence.

It was then that Brother Gratian, the minister provincial, sent Anthony to preach the Gospel all over Lombardy, a region of northern Italy. His skills were now widely recognised and, in addition to preaching, he taught at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse in southern France. But it was as a preacher that he was most admired.

In 1226, after attending the Franciscan chapter at Arles in France, and preaching in the French region of Provence, he returned to Italy and was sent as envoy from the Franciscan general chapter to Pope Gregory IX. At the Vatican court, his preaching was hailed as a “jewel case of the Bible” and he was commissioned to prepare a collection of Sermons for Feast Days. On 30 May, 1226, he was chosen as minister provincial of the Emilia-Romagna region.

In 1231, he became ill with dropsy and went to the woodland retreat at Camposanpiero with two other friars to recover. He lived in a cell built for him under the branches of a walnut tree. He died on 13 June, 1231, at the Poor Clare convent at Arcella, on his way back to Padua, at the early age of 36. When he died, it is said that children cried in the streets, all the bells of the churches rang of their own accord and angels came down to ring the bells for the death of the saint.

Pictures of Anthony most often show him holding the Infant Jesus in his arms. This refers to an apparition he is said to have had of the Infant Jesus. French writers say it took place at the Castle of Chateauneuf-la-Forêt in the province of Limousin, while the Italians claim it was at Camposanpiero near Padua. It is also said that Francis of Assisi appeared to him during a provincial chapter at Arles, in the south of France.

Anthony is buried in a chapel (once a church, now enclosed by the present building) of the large Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua. The house where he was born in Lisbon was turned into a church, the Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa. One of the Catholic Church’s most popular saints, Anthony was declared a Doctor of the Church on 16 January, 1946. He is often invoked for the recovery of things lost.

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