Saint Anthony of Padua was born Fernando, in Lisbon, Portugal on August 15, in the year 1195, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His mother being a pious woman raised Fernando to have deep faith in God and a special devotion to Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. At the age of fifteen, Anthony decided to become a Canon Regular of Saint Augustine. Seeking a life of solitude and devotion, Anthony turned to the study of the Holy Scriptures. He was an avid reader of books and very studious as he trained for the priesthood and concentrated on his vocation. In the year 1219, the bodies of Franciscan Martyrs were brought to Anthony’s monastery on their way back for burial. Inspired by the Martyr’s true faith in God, Anthony requested a transfer to the Order of Saint Francis in the hope of shedding his own blood and becoming a martyr in the name of Christ. In the year 1220, Anthony became a Franciscan.
Anthony’s life as a Martyr was not to be, during his first journey to Morocco he fell ill and was bed ridden for months. Anthony was persuaded to return home, but during his journey a severe storm broke and the Saint’s ship was forced in the opposite direction and he eventually landed in Sicily. Anthony accepted these hardships as a sign from God and entrusted his future to Him and awaited His direction.
Anthony moved north and was assigned to the little hermitage of Montepaolo. There, in undisturbed seclusion, he devoted his time to prayer, contemplation, and study. In 1222, Anthony along with many young men of the Order traveled to Forli, for his ordination. During a dinner for the new priests, Anthony was chosen to speak to his fellow Franciscans. It was the event that changed the life of Anthony forever. He spoke with such eloquence and grace; those in attendance were awed by this young new priest. Soon word spread and Anthony was chosen by the Seraphic Father, Francis to go forth and preach and be the first teacher of theology to his fellow Franciscans.
Anthony’s quiet solitude was replaced with expectant crowds yearning to hear him. He became known as: Anthony, the preacher. Anthony had truly found his calling, as he matured; he grew to have a most priestly presence, with a most pleasant countenance and the politest address. He had a rich, loud, and clear voice, and he excelled in oratory. With his shining intellect and marvelous memory, together with the spirit of prophecy and the gift of miracles, he easily captivated the crowds that came to see and hear him. He was relentless on his attacks of the social injustice of his time and became a strong advocate for the poor and mistreated. The vices of his time: avarice, luxury and tyranny vanished before the persuasive power of his preaching crusade. Miracle after miracle attested the divine character of his mission that called forth the approval of Pope, Prelate, priest, prince and peasant.
Anthony’s miracles were all astounding, but, those which most impressed both his followers and enemies were: His charming sermon to the fish at Rimini, when the heretics would not listen to him, The protection of his audience from a furious rainstorm that fell about them, the kneeling of the mule in front of Anthony as he held the Holy Eucharist, his appearance in the pulpit and the distant choir of his order at the same time, and the replacing and healing of the amputated foot of a boy, the delivering of his brethren from temptations and the preservation of people from injury. He is especially invoked for finding lost things, and through his intercession countless favors have been granted.
Toward the end of his short life Anthony chose Padua as his home. His name would forever be linked with that beautiful city. The simple yet remarkable life of Saint Anthony came to a close on the outskirts of the City of Padua on June 13, 1231. As the saint lay dying he was favored by a vision of Our Lord. His death was announced by the children of Padua, who ran through the streets and called out: “the Saint has died! the Holy Father has died!” No one had told the children this or given them any indication of Anthony’s passing.
His tomb was opened some thirty years later and though his body had turned to dust, his tongue, the symbol of his sacred eloquence, was miraculously preserved. Saint Bonaventure kissed it and exclaimed: “O, Blessed Tongue that always blessed to the Lord and caused others to bless Him, now is it manifest how numerous your merits were before God.”
Saint Anthony was canonized by Pope Gregory, IX on May 30, 1232, less than a year after his death. He was the second of many canonized Saints of the Franciscan Order, and perhaps the most popular of all the Saints in Christendom. During his brief life span he ascended to the greatest heights of holiness and won the entire world to his heart. No less a Pope than Leo XIII wrote: Remember that Saint Anthony is the Saint, not of Padua only, but of the whole world.” On July 16, 1946, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Anthony of Padua a “Doctor of the Universal Church,” with the title “Doctor of the Gospel,” the twenty-ninth Saint to be so honored.
Today, good works and favors are still granted in Saint Anthony’s name throughout the world. Saint Anthony is invoked as the “Saint of Miracles” and the finder of lost articles, he is known as the patron Saint of poor, and also of women who cannot conceive. There are few Catholic Churches without an image of the Saint, and people continue to honor him through festivals, novenas, fasting and prayer.
Pope John Paul II has said, “The study of Saint Anthony’s life convinces us that the reason for his irresistible attraction to people everywhere must be sought in the absolute fidelity with which he proclaimed the Gospel, and the courageous consistency with which he strove to embody its teachings.”
In Boston, Saint Anthony is honored by the Italian-American community of the North End with the largest Italian street festival in New England. Since 1919, Saint Anthony’s Feast has been celebrated on the weekend of the last Sunday of August. Called the “Feast of all Feasts” by National Geographic, this authentic festival offers parades, religious & cultural services, entertainment, Italian foods and novelties all on the beautifully decorated streets of the North End.