Many people know of St. Anthony of Padua by the little “prayer” that is said for his intercession when they lose something and can’t find it –
Tony, Tony, Come Around, Something is Lost and Can’t Be Found.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, who was a contemporary of St. Anthony of Padua, non-Catholics seem to know of him because of the above prayer that their Catholic friends often recite when something is lost. However, St. Anthony of Padua is much more than just the “saint of lost things”, he was a major powerhouse of Catholic theology in his own time and is known as the Evangelical Doctor because of his great sermons he would preach.
Yes, St. Anthony of Padua is a Doctor of the Church. This means that his theology impacted the Church in such a way doctrinally that after his death he was elevated to not only Sainthood through Canonization, but the Church declared him a Doctor as well.
He was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195, however his name “of Padua” comes from the place where he last lived and where his relics are venerated still to this day. Most Catholics believe St. Anthony to be Italian, but in reality he is of Portuguese descent. At birth, his name was Ferdinand and only changed his name to Anthony when we entered the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans). As a young child, he lived a pretty relaxed life growing up with two brothers and two sisters. His parents were of Portuguese nobility and were very faithful to the Catholic faith. His family life was happy and holy.
During his early adolescent years, he studied under the clergy of the Lisbon cathedral, but eventually joined the regular canons of St. Augustine that were near the city. Prayer and study became the life for young Ferdinand; however, family and friends often distracted him. He asked to be moved to the monastery in Coimbra, where he could confine himself to prayer and study without the distractions. He had a great love for study, a fantastic memory, and an extensive knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
After seeing the relics of the Franciscan martyrs who were slain by Moors in the country of Morocco, Ferdinand was moved by their zeal to die for Christ and requested to join the Friars Minor. He was admitted to the order in 1221. In the fashion of the five martyrs, Anthony requested to be sent to Morocco, but a severe illness overcame him shortly after landing on African soil. He was ordered back to Europe. He would never die a martyr’s death.
On his way back, the boat he was sailing on went off course and landed in Messina on the northeastern tip of Sicily. There he found out that a general chapter – the great chapter of 1221 – a gathering of over 3,000 Franciscan brothers was to occur at St. Mary of the Angels Church in Assisi. After the gathering, Anthony was appointed the lonely hermitage of San Paolo near Forli since the Franciscans didn’t think to much of him. During his time there, an ordination took place of Dominicans and Franciscans, however, nobody prepared a homily. Anthony was told that he had to preach. Out of obedience he took his place at the lectern and preached what the Holy Spirit inspired him to say. All were amazed and struck with awe of the beautiful words Anthony spoke of God’s love. The Franciscans then realized the great pearl they had with Anthony and assigned him as a professor of theology in the cities of Bologna, Toulouse, Montpellier, and Padua.
While a professor of theology, he was also commissioned as a preacher. Although he was an excellent teacher, his real gifts laid within the pulpit. His reverberating voice, which was both eloquent and persuasive, carried the Gospel message to all he preached. Like all great priests, he had a true zeal and love for souls. His personality dripped of holiness – so much that the mere sight of him would bring sinners to their knees. Many people flocked to hear him preach and many were often converted and received confession.
It is through this demeanor that he became known as the Hammer of the Heretics. He was often mocked and verbally abused by heretics who claimed that the Gospel was false. There are many miracles that are attributed to Anthony when speaking to heretics, such as his sermon to the fish at Rimini. Here he preached to the fish about their pure water, freedom, and many things to eat. The fish all bowed their heads together. Anthony said, “God be praised…for the fish of the water honor Him more than the heretics!” He never backed down, always spoke the Truth with love, and many came to believe in Jesus Christ through his life changing words. He is a true example for us in today’s Neo-Pagan culture. We must preach the Gospel message, even when we are mocked.
After working as an envoy for the general chapter of 1226 to Pope Gregory IX, he was released by the Holy Father and began his preaching again. From that point forward, Anthony returned and resided in Padua until his death. He loved Padua because of the great faith and fruit he found there among the faithful.
After preaching some sermons outside of Padua, Anthony came down with a sickness that made it clear his days this side of heaven were coming to an end. On June 13, 1231, he received his late rites, received Holy Viaticum, sang a hymn to Mary, and entered into his heavenly reward. As tears filled his eyes, he said, “I see my Lord!” He was only thirty-six years old.
Nearly one year after his death, Pope Gregory IX canonized him a Saint. He also honored with the anthem of “O doctor optime” which was a prophetic statement fulfilled by Pope Pius XII who declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1946. He is the youngest of the male doctors.