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A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: October 19, 2019
By Kelli Nugent
St. Edward Church, Texarkana
It seems that almost everyone has a “Tony” story, or rather, St. Anthony of Padua. I do — two big ones and plenty of smaller ones.
I knew I had to pay for college on my own. Babysitting and minimum wage jobs were totally insufficient to cover such a huge bill. I started talking to Tony about it every night for a couple of months asking for his assistance in this most pressing matter. Those conversations with him were realized when I received a financial aid letter awarding all the needed money for the year to be able to attend a private Catholic university.
Preaching to crowds of up to 30,000 people and hearing confessions for hours on end eventually took their toll. Anthony of Padua died within sight of Padua in 1231 at the age of 36, having been a Franciscan for 10 years.
Fast forward seven years — I’m married and our family is about to move 100 miles away for my husband to continue his schooling. To my dismay, I noticed that the solitary diamond is missing from my engagement ring. The steps of our last couple of days are retraced as we pack ourselves up to move, searching for that diamond. Calling repeatedly on this wonder-working saint who is known as the patron of lost (or stolen) items, I continued to search.
The day comes, we move, my prayer is unanswered. But St. Anthony is a saint of miracles. Days later in a new city, at the grocery store, as I buckle small children into their respective car seats, a sparkle of reflected sunlight catches my attention. A week earlier, I had set a casserole for a farewell dinner on the car’s floorboard and here lay the answer to my fervent prayer.
So, who is Tony? Born Fernando Martins de Bulhoes in Lisbon, Portugal, most American Catholics know him as St. Anthony of Padua. Fernando entered the community of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine just outside Lisbon at age 15.
He soon moved to Santa Croce in Coimbra and witnessed the bodies of the first five Franciscan martyrs brought in procession to the monastery where he lived. Desire for martyrdom inflamed him and led him to the Franciscans. When permission was granted, he received the Franciscan habit, taking the name Anthony.
However, one’s own plans are not necessarily God’s plans. Though sent to Morroco, he became extremely ill and could not stay. His return ship was blown off course by storms and landed in Sicily. Taken in by brother Franciscans, he was nursed back to health. Remaining ever humble, he did not speak of his background, training or education.
One day in 1222, as he accompanied a provincial to Forli to an ordination of several Dominican and Franciscan friars, it was discovered that no one had been assigned to preach. Anthony’s superior requested that he do so. Anthony did preach a moving homily that impressed both groups. This moment marked the beginning of his public career. Anthony also began to preach and teach across northern Italy and southern France, frequently preaching in towns where heresy was rampant. By some accounts he may have made as many as 400 trips.
News of his preaching reached Francis of Assisi who in 1224 wrote Anthony and assigned him to teach theology to the brethren. Anthony’s fame as an intercessor for lost or stolen articles is based on a disgruntled novice who stole Anthony’s psalter — the book of psalms — when he decided to leave the order, an expensive item at the time. The psalter had notes and comments which Anthony used in teaching. Anthony prayed for the return of the book and both the thief and the book were returned.
In 1226, Anthony was appointed as the provincial superior for northern Italy. He eventually made his headquarters in Padua, a city close to Venice. Preaching to crowds of up to 30,000 people and hearing confessions for hours on end eventually took their toll. Anthony of Padua died within sight of Padua in 1231 at the age of 36, having been a Franciscan for 10 years.
Miracles and healing were attributed to Anthony during his lifetime and even more after his death. St. Anthony has been declared a Doctor of the Church, the Hammer of the Heretics, miracle worker, but for me, he is my friend.