This holy Doctor of the Church was a man who was not blessed with good health, but turned that weakness into one of his greatest strengths. He was a holy priest who truly understand the meaning of Crusade and conquered many to Christ not through the sword, but through his eloquent speech, miracles and humility. He sought the crown of martyrdom, but was rewarded instead with the miraculous phenomenon of having the Child Jesus visit him, rest in his arms to encourage and pray with this beloved Franciscan whose preaching and odor of sanctity converted countless sousl to the Faith. He was Saint Anthony of Padua.
Very few saints are as well-loved as Saint Anthony of Padua. Born in Portugal in the city of Lisbon in 1195 with the Christian name Ferdinand de Bouillon. He came from a noble family related to the famous Godefroy de Bouillon, founder and first sovereign of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, who at the close of the Crusade of 1099 had refused to wear a crown, there where Christ had worn one of thorns.
Favored by nature and grace, Fernand resolved at the age of fifteen to leave the world and consecrate himself to God in the Order of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine. No flattery, threat or caress of his relatives could persuade him to leave that holy refuge. He asked to be transferred to another convent to avoid the family’s solicitations, and was sent to Coimbra. Still young, his sanctity became evident through miracles; he cured a poor religious whom the devil was obsessing, by covering him with his cloak.
Though he had intended to become an Augustinian Friar, the deeply moving experience of seeing the returned bodies of five martyred Franciscan Friars from Morocco prompted him to join the Franciscans where he took the name "Anthony." The Augustinians were desolate but could not prevent his departure, for Saint Francis of Assisi himself appeared to him in a vision in July 1220 before the two great Franciscans would ever meet in person. In the miraculous apparition Francis had commanded Anthony to leave. Eagerly anxious to go to Morocco to be a martyr for his faith, God had different ideas as Anthony became very sick just a few weeks after arriving in Morocco. On his return trip storms at sea forced his ship to Sicily where he returned via land through Italy. While in Italy he endeared himself to the poor, shunning everything he owned in the true Franciscan spirit.
even thouggh he had been deprived of the martyr’s crown he would have been happy to receive.
In 1221 he took part in the General Chapter of the Franciscans at Portiuncula. There he met in person the man who had appeared to him in a vision - the founder Saint Francis.
In 1222 Fra Antonio as he was now called, went with other Brothers and some Dominican friars to be ordained at Forli. There he rose under obedience to preach for the first time to the religious, and took for his theme the text of Saint Paul: Christ chose for our sake to become obedient unto death. As the discourse proceeded, “the Hammer of Heretics,” “the Ark of the New Testament,” “the eldest son of Saint Francis,” stood revealed in all his sanctity, learning, and eloquence before his rapt and astonished brethren. He had been serving in the humblest offices of his community; now he was summoned to emerge from this obscurity. Though meek and humble, God had granted Anthony a powerful talent of preaching which Francis could see and assigned him as a lector to defend the faith against Albigensianism which was spreading.
And then for nine years France, Italy, and Sicily heard his voice and saw his miracles, whose numbers can scarcely be counted. A crowd to which he was preaching outdoors one day, when the church was too small to hold all who came to hear him, amidst thunder and lightning felt not one drop of water fall upon them, while all around them the rain poured down. And men’s hearts turned to God.
He was sent to northern Italy and southern France, returning to Italy in 1227 where he was assigned to Padua. The fame of his fruits had spread throughout Italy where reports of many miracles and countless conversions were attributed to this simple, but dynamic Franciscan and close friend of Francis, who Francis called his "bishop"...so great was Anthony's knowledge of theology and Sacred Scripture. Many were aware that evenings, after he had spoken to so many about the Divine Son, Jesus would come as a little child to be held in Anthony's arms where Our Lord would encourage the saint and tell him how much He loved this faithful Franciscan. This encouraged Anthony to preach ever more zealously for Jesus and about Jesus. To this day Anthony is always depicted holding the Scriptures in one hand with a lily for purity and the Christ Child in the other.
After a number of years of teaching of theology, unceasing preaching and writing, Saint Anthony, whose health was never strong, was spending a short time of retreat in a hermitage near Padua late in 1230. Several months later he was overcome with a sudden weakness, which prevented him from walking. It progressed so rapidly that it was evident his last days had arrived. God was preparing to call His faithful son home to join Francis in Heavenly bliss.
Anthony died at the early age of 36 on June 13, 1231 and church bells rang throughout Italy, in many with no human person ringing the bells. People attributed the bellringers to the angels who had come to earth to ring them as children wailed in the streets crying aloud, "Our dear father, Anthony is dead." But his spirit and on-going miraculous wonders have lived on for nearly eight centuries. He is the patron saint of the poor and oppressed and the one to whom so many pray to when something or someone is lost.
It was only after his death that the account of the heavenly visitation by the Child Jesus was told during the official process concerning his virtues and miracles for worthiness of sainthood. It was narrated by the man who witnessed the marvel in question; the Saint himself had never spoken of it. Saint Anthony was in the region of Limoges in France, and was offered hospitality, rest and silence by this businessman of the region, in his country manor. He was given a room apart, to permit him to pray in peace; but during the night his host looked toward his lighted window and saw in the brilliance a little Infant of marvelous beauty in the arms of the Saint, with His own around the Friar’s neck. The witness trembled at the sight, and in the morning Saint Anthony, to whom it had been revealed that his host had seen the visitation, called him and enjoined him not to tell it as long as he was alive. The town near Limoges where this occurred remains unknown; the original account of the inquiry does not name it, but says that the man in question narrated it, with tears, after Saint Anthony’s death.
Anthony was buried in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua and has become one of the Church's most endearing saints. To this day he is the champion of the poor with Franciscan friars distributing bread aptly dubbed "St. Anthony's bread" to the poor and desolate universally. In canonizing this great Franciscan Pope Gregory IX rightly gave St. Anthony the title "Ark of the New Testament."
Note: Some of the sources taken from: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894; Saints of the Roman Calendar, Enzo Lodi).