A reflection for the Memorial of St Anthony of Padua

By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ, 13 June 2024
A stained glass window depicting St Anthony of Padua at St Casimir's parish in Baltimore, Maryland. Image: Fr Lawrence Lew OP/Flickr/Supplied


13 June is the Memorial of St Anthony of Padua (1195-1231)

St Anthony of Padua was born in Lisbon, Portugal, at the end of the 12th Century. His family was wealthy, and Anthony was well-educated and devout. He joined the Augustinian Order at the age of 15, moved to Coimbra to avoid the demands made on him by family and friends, and was ordained a priest at the age of 19. He was deeply moved by the death of five members of the recently founded Franciscan Order in Morocco and received permission to join the Friars in their Hermitage outside Coimbra. There, he took the name of Anthony, honouring the hermit Saint from Egypt, and was sent to Morocco. This region then supported both Christian and Muslim cultures under alternating political control. He fell ill, returned on a boat that was blown off course to Sicily, and eventually was sent by the Franciscans to Forli in Northern Italy in order to recover his health.

After showing gifts as a preacher, he was then sent to Bologna, the regional headquarters of the Franciscans. There he came to the notice of St Francis of Assisi, who was wary of theology that could distract from simplicity and ministry to the poor, but found in Anthony a kindred spirit. He made him responsible for Franciscans’ studies. Anthony himself taught in many universities.

When, in 1226, Francis made him Superior of the Franciscans in Northern Italy, Anthony moved to Padua where he lived in the Franciscan community. He gained a great reputation as a preacher. His surviving sermon notes show his fascination with the symbols in Scriptural passages and their links with other passages. His preaching evoked warmth and wonder.

The many stories that circulated about him depict him as a genial man who did not fight with or humiliate others. He rather brought them together and won them to God, as had his namesake Anthony of Egypt. Like Francis of Assisi who preached to birds, he was said to have preached to fish who gathered to hear him. He also earned his later reputation for finding people and things that were lost. A Franciscan friar about to leave the Order stole Antony’s very expensive and annotated book of Psalms. Anthony prayed; the thief repented and returned both the Psalter and himself to the Friary.

Anthony died from food poisoning at the age of 36. He was held in such high respect that he was made a saint in the following year.

In later centuries, the Franciscans spread through many missionary regions in the Americas and in Asia. As a result, many Churches and towns were named after him, including San Antonio in Texas. With such fame and devotion, it is no wonder that he is now patron saint of almost everything and everywhere.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.


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