“Dear St Anthony, please come round, something is lost and cannot be found.”
Most people are familiar with this invocation to St.Anthony as they plead to him to help them recover a lost item. But St. Anthony’s greatness goes beyond being a patron for finding lost things!
His real name was Fernando Martins de Bulhoes. Although linked to Padua, Italy, he was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He was not interested in his family’s status and wealth, being inclined to follow the religious life. He was only 15 when he joined the Augustinians in Coimbra, Portugal and started his studies for the priesthood.
His life changed when Franciscan monks settled in St. Anthony’s hermitage, close to Coimbra. He was attracted to the missionary spirit of the Franciscans and impressed when the bodies of Franciscan martyrs were returned from Morocco to Lisbon. After receiving permission from his superiors, he left the Agustinians and joined the Franciscans as a priest, taking the name of Anthony.
His dream to become a missionary was fulfilled when soon after, he was sent as a missionary to Morocco. But he did not remain there for long because he became seriously ill and had to return by ship to Portugal to recover. However the ship was caught in a terrible storm and after being blown off course, it landed on the shores of Sicily, Italy. After regaining his health, Anthony and his companions travelled north and joined the other Franciscans in Padua, where he started to lead a simple life of prayer and service in the spirit of Franciscan poverty.
His life took another turn when Anthony attended the ordination to the priesthood of a group of Franciscans and Dominicans. There was a misunderstanding about who was to deliver the homily and consequently nobody was prepared to deliver it! Anthony was instructed by his superior to deliver the homily even though he was not prepared. He obeyed, delivering a homily that was so beautiful and impressive that St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscans, asked him to become a teacher to the Franciscan novices and priests. Anthony humbly accepted.
From then on, for some time, he taught in Universities in Northern Italy, but he became mostly known for his preaching, which although profound , was simple enough for everybody to understand. He continued his life as a humble Franciscan, characterized by his love for the poor, his saintly humility and as a worker of miracles.
He died on the 13th June 1231 when he was 36 years old. He was canonized a few years later. He was also declared as “Evangelical Doctor of the Church.” Anthony’s life had many twists and turns. He responded to the messages God sent in his life, accepting that God had plans that were different from what he had planned. Anthony’s purpose in life was to respond to God’s will.