St Anthony of Padua was born as Fernando Martin de Bulhom in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal, the son of a knight of the court of King Alfonso II. At the age of 15 he joined the Augustinians and devoted himself to study and prayer.
The martyrdom of St Bernard and his companions, who were among the early Franciscans, led him to join the Franciscan Order at the age of 25. At this time, he changed his name to Anthony in honour of St Anthony of Egypt. He received a friendly reception at the Franciscan convent at Coimbra, the capital of Portugal, and in the same year his wish to be sent to the missions in Africa was fulfilled. However, owing to sickness and shipwreck, he soon found himself at the mother house of the Franciscans in Assisi.
Owing to another set of coincidences, when no others were available, Anthony found himself asked to preach, and he spoke with such eloquence that everyone was amazed. When St Francis heard this, he sent Anthony to preach throughout Italy and then to teach theology, ‘but in such a manner,’ as St Francis wrote, ‘that the spirit of prayer be not extinguished either in yourself or in the other brethren.’ Anthony thus continued to preach and pray and teach, and many miracles were reported wherever he went.
In 1227 he was elected to lead the Franciscans in northern Italy and found himself in the city of Padua. Owing to his penances and labours, however, his health began to fail. He soon felt his strength so spent that he prepared himself for death. After receiving the last sacraments he kept looking upward with a smile. When he was asked what he saw there, he answered, ‘I see my Lord.’ He died on 13 June 1231, and he was only 36 years old.
He was canonized the following year and a magnificent church was built in his honour in the main square of Padua. His relics were placed there in 1263 and are still there today. Many miracles have since occurred through St Anthony’s intercession. People also pray to St Anthony when they have lost something valuable. Apparently a novice once ran away from the monastery with a valuable psalm book that Anthony had been using. Anthony prayed for its recovery and the novice was startled by an apparition and returned it.
Another story about St Anthony is about a mule that fell on its knees when the saint held up the Blessed Sacrament, thus converting the mule’s owner to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus. St Anthony was named a Doctor of the Church in 1946.