Today is the feast of my patron and namesake, Saint Anthony of Padua. (My middle name is Antonio.) He is arguably one of the most beloved and admired Saints in the Church. Unfortunately, for many, he is merely known as the Saint you pray to when you lose your eyeglasses or car keys. This is unfortunate, especially given his extraordinary life and Christian witness. I thought I would share 13 interesting and perhaps lesser-known facts about this remarkable man of God.
1. Apologies to all my Italian friends. Contrary to popular belief, Anthony was not born in Padua Italy, but Lisbon Portugal to a wealthy and noble family.
2. He was baptized with the name of Fernando (Ferdinand), not Antonio (Anthony).
3. He entered the Canons Regular of St. Augustine at age 15 (over his parents’ objection) and excelled in the study of sacred theology.
4. He was ordained an Augustinian and was later inspired to become a Franciscan monk through the heroic example of five Franciscans who were were martyred for the faith in Morocco. It was upon becoming a Franciscan that he took the name Anthony and set out for Morocco to preach the faith, desirous to become a martyr himself.
5. On his way to Morocco, Anthony became gravely ill. An attempt was made to transport him back to Portugal, however, his ship was stranded on the coast of Sicily. Anthony spent the rest of his life spreading the Gospel throughout Italy and France, never to return to his native Portugal.
6. His remarkable gift of preaching was discovered at an ordination Mass in Forli, Italy. Upon learning that no one had been assigned to preach the homily, and after all of the priests in attendance had declined, Anthony was volunteered to preach the homily and amazed everyone who heard him. It was at that moment when Anthony’s public ministry began. St. Francis, upon learning of Anthony’s erudition and skill, appointed him to teach sacred theology to his Franciscan brethren.
7. Anthony was a tireless defender of the faith. The zeal with which he fought against heresy, coupled with the great number of conversions wrought through his preaching and teaching earned him the title Malleus hereticorum (Hammer of the heretics).
8. Coupled with his extraordinary gifts of preaching and teaching was the gift of miracles. So numerous and prodigious were the miracles wrought by the Saint, that he was regarded a thaumaturgus, a wonder-worker.
9. On one occasion, while attempting to preach to a group of heretics who were ridiculing him, the Saint turned to the edge of a river where he began to preach to an enormous school of the fish that miraculously gathered, peering above the water to listen to his every word. As you can imagine, this miracle later gained him a fair hearing, which resulted in the conversion of many that day.
10. Anthony died in Padua on the 13th of June 1231 at the age of 36 and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX one year later.
11. In 1263, Saint Anthony's tomb was opened for the transfer of his relics. While his flesh was reduced to dust, his tongue was discovered to be miraculously incorrupt. The great Franciscan Saint Bonaventure, who was the Minister General at the time, beholding this wonder, took the tongue in his hands and kissing it exclaimed: "O Blessed Tongue that always praised the Lord, and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit thou hast before God."
12. In 1946, Pope Pius XII named him Doctor Evangelicus (Evangelical Doctor) of the Church.
13. Saint Anthony is often depicted affectionately holding the infant Jesus in his arms, which stems from an apparition that he is said to have received. Very often the infant in Anthony’s arms is portrayed as standing on the holy Bible. It is hard not to see in this a symbol of the Logos, the Word Incarnate, the Word of God, which was the hammer of truth that Anthony wielded with such devotion and power for the salvation of souls.
Saint Anthony of Padua, Hammer of heretics. Ora pro nobis.