St Anthony of Padua is one of the Catholic churche's most popular saints. He is the patron of the poor: a person prays to St Anthony for help, and in return they promise to give bread (or a gift) to the poor. He is the patron saint of lost and stolen articles, and in some European countries he is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. Although he died when he was only 36, St Anthony was a great preacher and theologian (he studied and taught others about God, religious texts, the meaning of life and the universe, and religious truth).
St Anthony was born in 1195 in Lisbon (now Portugal) and he was christened Fernando. When he was 15 he entered the religious order of St Augustine and after two years he was sent to Coimbra (Portugal) to begin nine years of intensive studies. St Anthony is the patron saint of lost and stolen articles because when he had a book of psalms stolen from him, he prayed and the thief was moved to return it to him.
The Franciscan martyrs
One day, St Anthony saw the bodies of the first five Franciscan martyrs being carried in solemn procession to his monastery. The five men had been to Morocco in North Africa to preach the Gospel of Christ, but whilst there they had been brutally killed for their religious beliefs. Fernando asked to be allowed to receive the Franciscan habit, go to Morocco, and become a martyr. This means he was willing to endure great suffering and death for the Catholic faith. This is when he took the name Anthony.
Preacher and theologian in Italy
Whilst in Morocco, St Anthony became very ill. But when he attempted to return home, a storm blew him to the east coast of Sicily in Italy. He was taken in by friars at Messina. He did not tell the friars about his previous training as an Augustinian. At an ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222, Anthony was asked to give a simple sermon. He impressed everyone there with his knowledge, holiness and way of speaking.
He became a public preacher, travelling in northern Italy and southern France. He spoke in a way that everyone could understand. One day when no one would listen to him, he preached to fish and in doing so, he got the people’s attention.
St Anthony sees Jesus
St Anthony taught theology in a friary in Bologna but he was asked by St Francis to continue holy prayer and devotedness; he continued to preach and spent time in prayer and hearing confession as well. One night when he was praying late into the night, the room was filled with brilliant light and Jesus appeared to him in the form of a child.
St Anthony's later years
In Padua, when he preached, there were too many people to fit in churches and he had to go into piazzas (an open square or public place) or open fields. But St Anthony was ill and his work and fasting had made him weak. When he died at Arcella near Padua at 36, he said that he could see his Lord. The following year he was declared a saint. He was the first teacher in the Franciscan Order, given the special approval and blessing of St Francis. In 1946 St Anthony was declared a Doctor of the church, which means he was recognized for the advanced work he did for the Catholic faith.