I’d Like You to Meet My Good Friend, St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua is a friend of God and a friend of ours.

Antonio de Pereda  (1611-1678), “St. Anthony of Padua”
Antonio de Pereda (1611-1678), “St. Anthony of Padua” (photo: Public Domain / Public Domain)

“Exult, happy Portugal, rejoice, happy Padua; for you have given birth for earth and heaven to a shining star, a man who has illuminated and still dazzles with a radiant light the whole earth, not only by holiness of life and fame of miracles, but by the splendor of his celestial teaching.” —Pope Pius XII’s apostolic letter declaring St. Anthony a Doctor of the Church, Jan. 16, 1946

I’ve visited many shrines of saints throughout the years. My most memorable visit was to Padua, Italy, where I was looking for You-Know-Who.

I stopped a lady on the street and asked her where his shrine was. She looked at me quizzically as there must have been a thousand shrines in the city. Realization hit her and see cried out, “IL Santo?!”

IL Santo” literally means “THE Saint.”

Among his many titles is “Doctor Evangelicus (Evangelical Doctor), Malleus hereticorum (The Hammer of the Heretics), Professor of Miracles, Wonder-Worker, Ark of the Testament and Repository of Holy Scripture.

I call him, “Friend.”

Everyone who has a devotion to St. Anthony calls him “Friend.” He’s highly approachable. Anthony is the go-to guy. He’s the man. He helps whenever you call on him even for the silliest things, like lost car keys — or even looking for a parking space.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a country whose Catholics don’t have devotion to him. Haiti, Italy, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, India, Portugal and the Philippines — everyone likes St. Anthony.

Funny thing about the Italian Franciscan saint, Anthony of Padua. He’s none of these things … except the saint part.

In actuality, Anthony died in Padua but was born in Lisbon. He was baptized “Ferdinand” and chose the name “Anthony” when he joined the Franciscans.

Why is he considered an Italian saint? That’s easy — Italians are, shall we say, “light-fingered” when it comes to saints. They’re eager to make anyone Italian. St. Augustine, Bishop of Milan? Nope. He’s Tunisian. St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan? Nope … Belgian. St. Josephina Bachata? No way. She’s Sudanese. St. Rocco? He’s actually French. St. Angelo? He’s from Jerusalem. (A word of warning to all future saints: Italians are gunnin’ for you. If I were them, I’d keep an eye on my relics. I’m not saying. I’m just saying.)

I consider it a compliment. Everyone wants a saint from their hometown, just like everyone wants their hometown team in the World Series or the Super Bowl or the World Curling Championships. We all want a piece of the winning team. And St. Anthony is the winningest team around.

The Portuguese, however, don’t find this situation funny at all. To them, he is Santo António de Lisboa.

When he was 15 years old, Ferdinand joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine in Lisbon, where he immersed himself in the study of theology. In 1220, he witnessed five bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs, killed in Morocco at the hands of Muslims, being returned to Portugal. They were brought to the Church of Santa Croce in Coimbra for burial — coincidentally, the place where Ferdinand was assigned.

He was greatly moved by their death for the faith. Ferdinand also wanted to preach the Gospel to the Muslims and so left the Augustinians to join the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans.

St. Anthony made his way to Morocco in spring 1221, but as soon as he got there, he become deathly ill and had to return to Portugal.

On his return trip, a violent storm arose which drove his shop off course, landing him in Messina, Sicily. After recovering his health, he made his way to the Franciscan general chapter in Assisi and met St. Francis.

During the chapter, St. Anthony asked to be assigned to life of prayer, solitude and penance and was sent to the Monte Paolo Hermitage near Bologna. While there, St. Anthony was invited to a joint ordination of Franciscan and Dominican priests.

When the time came for the sermon, everyone quickly realized that no one was assigned to give it. The Franciscans then urged Anthony to step forward. They told him to preach whatever the Holy Spirit spoke to him. He astonished everyone with his knowledge, experience and fervor. His provincial assigned him to preach through Lombardy, which was then a hotbed of heresies.

Several miracles are attributed to St. Anthony during his lifetime, which makes him a thaumaturge or extraordinary miracle-worker — very rare among the saints. While preaching at Holy Thursday Mass in the Church of St. Pierre du Queyriox in Limoges, France, he remembered that he had made a commitment to preach at evening prayers at his monastery. He paused his homily, bowed and remained silent. Apparently, he appeared simultaneously preaching in the church and singing the Lesson at the monastery as he promised. He bilocated.

Why is he invoked as Patron Saint of Lost Things? Apparently, a Franciscan novice “walked off” with an expensive prayer book Anthony was using. The saint prayed, asking God to help locate the psalter. The novice was the unfortunate recipient of a particularly distressing apparition of St. Anthony. The young man then returned the book and all was forgiven.

In Rimini, where the heretics treated him contemptuously, Anthony took his homily to the fishes at the seashore. Upon addressing them, they came to the surface and listened more attentively than did the heretics.

In Toulouse, an Albigensian heretic challenged Anthony to prove the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. The man proposed starving his mule and placing before him a pile of fresh hay, along with the Holy Eucharist in a monstrance. If the mule ignored the meal and acknowledged the Eucharist, he would convert to Christianity. Anthony prayed for three days and presented himself in the town square and addressed the poor animal. “Dear beast! Before you lies the Savior of the World and of everything in it. Acknowledge his presence here and now!”

At that, the poor starved animal shuffled past the hay and made his reverence toward the monstrance.

When Anthony died, all the church bells in Padua rang of their own accord. Children ran in the streets, yelling, “The saint is dead!”

Pope Gregory IX canonized Anthony May 30, 1232, less than a year after his death. On Jan. 16, 1946, Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony a Doctor of the Church, bestowing the title Doctor Evangelicus (i.e., “Evangelical Doctor”) on him.

I am indebted to Anthony for a lifetime of locating a mountain of lost items. Whenever I get an Amber Alert on my phone, I take the time to beg Anthony for his assistance. I also pray for those who lose their patience, for those who have apparently lost their minds, and for those who have lost their way in life. I also pray for lost souls — those who have fallen into mortal sin, abandoned the Church, and grown apathetic to the practice of the faith.

As I said early, Anthony is the go-to saint.