“Everybody’s St Anthony”, as he is popularly called, is one of the most astonishing saints in the Catholic calendar. He is invoked and prayed to in all kinds of circumstances – generally to recover lost articles; but also by those in danger of shipwreck , by pregnant women, travelers, and always by the poor, for whom St Anthony’s bread is a common offering.
Who is this remarkable saint?
He was born Ferdinand Bouillon in 12th century Lisbon, Portugal, and as a young man he joined the Augustinian order. But he was inspired by Franciscan martyrs in Morocco and wanted to join them as a missionary. So he duly changed over to the Franciscans with a new name, Anthony.
But his missionary venture was shortlived. The ship he was traveling on was wrecked on the coast of Sicily, and Anthony found himself in Italy, attending the first assembly of the Franciscan order, where he met the great St Francis of Assisi himself. It was soon discovered that this young monk was an eloquent preacher, so Francis gave him this charge: “it is my desire that you teach theology to the brothers, but not at the cost of prayer and devotion.”
Thus began Anthony’s remarkable career as a preacher across southern Europe. Wherever he went, crowds followed, attracted by his lucid style and his simple explanations of Scripture. His winning personality, combined with a clear and powerful voice, enabled him readily to impart his knowledge to all sorts, learned and peasant alike. God also granted him the gifts of prophecy, of miracles and of speaking in tongues. His personality, always humble and accessible, won over the hardened and obdurate, and lasting reconciliation was brought about between enemies.
Anthony died at the age of 36, but so powerful was his saintly presence that he was made a saint the year after. Proof of his popularity may found even today, in the numerous boys and girls who bear his name.