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St. Anthony of Padua was a great Franciscan preacher from the Middle Ages, but he is most remembered as the finder of lost or stolen objects. Even today stories are told by people who recover lost articles following prayer for the intercession of St. Anthony.
The reason for invoking St. Anthony’s help stems from an incident in the saint’s life. Anthony had a book of psalms that he cherished. Any book before the invention of the printing press was of great value, but this one also included the notes he used when he taught students in the Franciscan Order. A novice who had grown weary of the religious life decided to leave the community, and on the way out he took Anthony’s book of psalms. When the future saint noticed that his book was missing, he prayed that it would be found and returned to him. After this prayer the novice returned the book to Anthony and also returned to the order.
Anthony was born Ferdinand de Bulhoes in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal. He was the son of a knight who served in the court of King Alfonso II of Portugal. As a boy he studied under the priests of the Lisbon cathedral. When he was fifteen, he entered an Augustinian monastery, where he was educated. He was ordained an Augustinian priest in 1219. A year or so later, he met some Franciscan missionaries on their way to Morocco to preach to the Muslims. The friars were later martyred, which so inspired Anthony that he asked permission to transfer to the Franciscan Order. It was granted, so he took the name Anthony and set off for Morocco to be a missionary. He returned the following spring because of health problems. His ship, which had been headed to Portugal, was caught in a storm so he ended up in Italy.
Anthony was assigned to work in a kitchen in St. Paul’s Monastery near Forli. One evening he was called to give an extemporaneous sermon. His preaching was so powerful that he was sent to preach all over Italy. His sermons attracted huge crowds, and soon he spent all his time preaching. In 1226 he moved to Padua. He reformed the city by attacking corruption wherever he saw it. He did all he could for the poor, struggled to abolish debtors’ prisons, and engaged in dialogue with those opposed to orthodox Christianity, frequently winning them over.
In 1231 Anthony became seriously ill and died on June 13. He was just thirty-six years old. Anthony was canonized the following year, and in 1946 he was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII.
Excerpted from The Patron Saints Handbook by Mitch Finley (The Word Among Us Press, 2010). Available at wau.org/books