Saint of the Day: St Anthony of Padua – June 13
MINISTER PROVINCIAL OF ROMAGNA
CANON REGULAR OF ST. AUGUSTINE
DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
PATRON OF PREACHERS
St. Anthony has always been a special family patron. I suppose my paternal grandfather, Doroteo Pozos, is to blame. My father was born on August 26 and, according to custom, was supposed to have been named Seferino after the Saint of the Day, Pope St. Zephyrinus (pontificate 198 -217). My grandfather didn’t like the name and instead named his only son Antonio. This started a chain of Antonian events. My oldest brother was name Anthony, and my sister Antoinette. To drive the point home, Providence sent my brother Arnold to us on June 13. Kathy and I did not help things either by naming our second son Antonio.
So who was St. Anthony / San Antonio? Actually St. Anthony (ca. 1195 – 1231) was Portuguese and is sometimes referred to as St. Anthony of Lisbon, where he was born and baptized Fernando Martin de Bulhoes. His parents were wealthy and powerful nobles. How his life took him from Lisbon as a member of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine to become the Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua in northern Italy is a story with many twists and turns.
When he was 15, the young Fernando entered St. Vincent, the monastery of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. This group served as pastors and were not monks. After a couple of years Fernando asked to be transferred to the group’s Abbey of the Holy Cross in Coimbra, which was the capital of Portugal at the time. Apparently, he had not been happy with the visits and interruptions of family and friends in Lisbon and felt that his studies and his vocation were suffering as a result.
After he completed his studies and was ordained in Coimbra, Fr. Fernando was placed in charge of hospitality for the abbey, which meant that he was responsible for taking care of guests. A group of Franciscans, who were a new an dynamic movement at the time, were his guests as they traveled to Islamic Spain and Morocco as missionaries. They moved him deeply and when their martyred remains returned to Coimbra, Fr. Fernando managed to get the permission of his superiors to join the Franciscans. He received the Franciscan habit, took the name Antonio, and was intent on going to Morocco to die for the faith.
When St. Anthony landed in Morocco, along with another Franciscan, he was so ill that he had to return to Portugal. On his premature return trip, his ship was blown off course by a huge storm which swept him all the way to Sicily. He made his way to Assisi and was in very poor health. He ended up in a small hospice in the countryside, where he lived as a hermit and helped out in the kitchen.
St. Anthony’s marvelous gifts as a preacher and scriptural theologian were discovered when he was asked to preach at an ordination. Although it is unlikely that St. Anthony ever met St. Francis, the Poverello appointed St. Anthony to teach theology to his brothers. This was an unusual endorsement, since St. Francis had many reservations about the ego of scholars and theologians. He did not want to foster this type of unfortunate self-centeredness in his own group.
St. Anthony not only spent time as a teacher but also traveled extensively, preaching in the countryside and serving in administrative offices of the order. He took on various groups which had deviated from orthodoxy. Although St. Anthony is called the “Hammer of the Heretics,” he has a more pastoral legacy which underscores his genuine concern for people. There are many stories of miracles which seem to strain our post-modern credulity. Although many may be legends or devotional fabrications, St. Anthony was known to have transformed many lives and had a definite impact on a long line of Franciscan scholars and saints who would come after him.
He was to set an ideal for Franciscan intellectuals, who were great preachers, mystics, ascetics, and competent administrators. St. Bonaventure is one of the more famous examples of this cluster of gifts, as is Blessed Junipero Serra the Apostle of California.
Most often, St. Anthony is depicted holding the Christ Child. Except for the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, no other saint is presented this way. Apparently, this depiction began in the 17th century, based on a legend from the saint’s life. Symbolically though, this image presents much of Franciscan spirituality in terms of encountering, modeling and presenting Christ – poor, vulnerable, and welcoming.
St. Anthony died near Padua at the age of 36. This was not an unusual lifespan for the 13th century and yet it is amazing what he gave to us in such a brief span of years.