St. Anthony certainly does not need any introduction in our city, having a neighboring parish bearing his name. He often is invoked when someone searches for a lost item or is at a loss for patience.
There are, however, some popular misconceptions about the holy man.
First of all, though he is the patron of a predominantly Italian-American parish, he was not Italian. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal. Second, his birth name was Fernando Martins, not Anthony. Third, though a Franciscan and sworn to poverty, he was not born that way. His family was quite wealthy, he just chose another path.
Anthony began his religious studies in Lisbon when 15 years old. He later transferred to the Abbey of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, then capital of Portugal. He became guest master at the abbey and was so moved by some visiting Franciscans, that he requested, and was granted, permission to join them.
His first mission was to be in Morocco, but he became so sick he had to return to Portugal. Fate would blow his ship off course to Sicily and thereafter Tuscany where he was assigned to recover in the hermitage of San Paolo. He spent that time in prayer and study. It served him well, for on the occasion of a visit by Dominican friars, neither the Franciscans nor the Dominicans were prepared to deliver a homily at a service.
Though he objected, Anthony was asked to speak off the cuff. His delivery was so eloquent and moving, that he received universal praise.
He became a well-regarded teacher and preacher. He moved to Bologna where he came to the attention of Francis of Assisi. who in 1224, charged him with instruction of the new friars in his order.
Anthony also lectured at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse in France. He could communicate church doctrine effectively even to the uneducated in his homilies.
In 1946, Pope Pius XII made Anthony a Doctor of the Church.
Anthony fought ill health all his life. He spent the end of his 36 years in, or near, Padova, Italy, where a great basilica shelters his remains.
After 336 years his body was exhumed. Though most of his remains decomposed his tongue was totally incorrupt, perhaps a reminder of his eloquent teachings and messages in life.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from www.franciscanmedia.org