By Lyndon Little
St. Anthony of Padua — a Franciscan friar and the patron saint after whom our parish is named — is a man worthy of serving as an inspiration to all of us for his selfless devotion to our Lord in his preaching of the gospel and service to the poor.
There is actually another famous St. Anthony celebrated by the Catholic Church — St. Anthony of Egypt, who lived about nine centuries before the one who has lent his name to our parish. When St. Anthony’s, West Vancouver, was first established as a mission in 1921 a wealthy patron from Eastern Canada requested our church be named after his favourite saint.
St. Anthony of Padua is known as one of the most celebrated followers of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Order of St. Francis.
Our St. Anthony was born in 1195 in Lisbon into a rich and powerful Portuguese family. His life, which lasted only 36 years, can be divided into three distinct phases. He lived 15 years with his parents, 10 years as a Canon Regular of St. Augustine — primarily at Coimbra, Portugal — and 11 as a member of the Order of St. Francis.
During his time in Coimbra, Anthony was so impressed by some of the Franciscan monks who visited there before being martyred in Morocco that soon after in 1220 he asked to be allowed to join the Friars Order, taking the name by which we know him today (he had been baptized at birth as Ferdinand).
After joining the Franciscan Order, Anthony sailed for Morocco in hopes of continuing his mission with his new order. Unfortunately, he was soon struck by illness and was forced to return to Portugal. During the intended voyage home, his ship was driven by a storm onto the coast of Sicily where he remained for some time until he recovered his health.
St. Anthony eventually made his way to Assisi in Italy where his knowledge and contemplative nature attracted the attention of St. Francis himself, who chose him to teach theology to the friars in Bologna and Padua. Whether St. Anthony and St. Francis actually met face-to-face is a matter of debate among religious scholars. However, what is known is that St. Anthony was sent to France a few years later where he began preaching and teaching. It was during this period of his life that his reputation as a charismatic orator began to spread. His fame was such, it is said he drew crowds so large he often spoke in market places rather than in churches.
He was especially noted for attacking the vices of luxury, avarice and heresy. It was his particular condemnation of the last vice that earned him the reputation as “The Hammer of the Heretics.”
Sadly, St. Anthony’s time on earth wasn’t lengthy. After the death of St. Francis in October of 1226, he returned to Italy from France where he was elected provincial minister of Emillia. At the end of Lent, 1231, St. Anthony was himself struck by a severe illness and died on June 13.
Best known for his CPP skills — hearing confession, preaching and prayer, his sole professed aim was to meet God as soon as possible, beginning with his wish to be martyred in Morocco. It turns out he had to wait longer than he had hoped because God had other plans for him. He at last achieved his goal when he passed away in Arcella —a short distance from his beloved Padua. One of the friars who was travelling with him asked Anthony what he was staring at so intently, he answered: “I see my Lord.” He died in peace a short time after that.
The measure of St. Anthony’s standing in the church is demonstrated in his canonization by Pope Gregory IX on May 30, 1232, less than a year after his death. The spreading of his fame was aided through the evangelical efforts of the Portuguese, who took news of his good works with them to the New World, most particularly to Brazil. He was also named a Doctor of the Church by Pius XII in 1946.
Since the 17th century, St. Anthony’s name has been frequently invoked as the finder of lost articles. As well, his devotion to the poor was honoured by the 19th century institution of St. Anthony’s Bread. This charity — devoted to the relief of the starving and needy — still flourishes, especially in Third World countries. In Sicily, huge loaves in the shape of a crown are baked on his Feast Day, June 13.
The life of St. Anthony can perhaps be best summed up by a paragraph written by Leonard Foley O.F.M. in his excellent “A Short Life of St. Anthony of Padua.”
“Anthony was a simple and humble friar who preached the Good News lovingly and with fearless courage. The youth whom his fellow friars thought was uneducated became one of the great preachers and theologians of his day. He was a man of great penance and apostolic zeal. But he was primarily a saint of the people.”