We have all lost something at some point in our lives: our favorite toy, our car keys, an umbrella. Occasionally, we may lose something more important, like our cell phones or other technology, or perhaps important work documents or financial records. When such losses occur, trivial or consequential, we start to panic and try to retrace our steps in the hopes of finding that which was lost.
For St. Anthony of Padua, such a moment came to define his ministry and his reputation; he is known as the patron saint of lost items. However, his devotion to the Lord and ministry in service of others created a much richer legacy.
#1 When did St. Anthony of Padua live?
St. Anthony of Padua was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in Lisbon, Portugal. He was born to a noble family, who could afford to send him to religious schools, including an Augustinian community outside of Lisbon. He eventually chose to relocate to another schoolhouse in Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal, to continue his studies.
#2 To what order did St. Anthony of Padua belong?
Fernando joined the relatively new Franciscan Order, which had only been in existence for 11 years when he joined them. He was given a position of responsibility for his abbey in Coimbra, which received the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs who had been killed on a mission to Morocco. He was attracted to their lifestyle and vows and sought to join their order. When he did so, he adopted the name Anthony and tried to travel to Morocco himself to continue their mission work, but he fell ill and had to return home.
#3 What became a hallmark of his ministry?
Anthony gained a large following for his preaching and teaching style. After gaining an impromptu assignment to preach a sermon at a large gathering of friars (which he originally refused), he left his audience captivated and was soon asked to repeat the practice.
He spent a great deal of time in study and research into matters of theology, and his preaching was forceful and convincing. He carried a deep knowledge of Scripture and taught it with a thorough explanation and impressive detail.
Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order that bore his name, respected his teaching ability, and saw a need for his ability to teach the younger members of his order. He gave Anthony the responsibility to direct any of his friars who engaged in such studies.
He also was assigned teaching posts at French universities in Montpellier and Toulouse and was even appointed as an envoy to the Pope in 1228, who lauded his preaching ability and impressive knowledge of the Bible.
#4 What story best defines St. Anthony of Padua’s life?
Anthony once had a small book that contained a wealth of notes and thoughts written into a collection of psalms. A man who had decided to leave the monastery stole the book as he left, and Anthony prayed that it would be returned since the cost of a new book would have been out of reach for a monk who had sworn to a life of poverty (not to mention the loss of the personal notes). The thief repented and returned it to the Order.
This book is believed to be preserved in a Franciscan library in Bologna.
#5 What other legends are associated with St. Anthony of Padua?
Several miraculous accounts are attributed to St. Anthony of Padua.
When one of his audiences refused to acknowledge his preaching, Anthony decided to turn to the shoreline and preach to a school of fish. They all jumped out of the water in an orderly fashion to hear him preach. He rebuked the crowds for their lack of attention, and the miracle moved them to repentance.
He was also in danger of being poisoned by a group of heretics who wanted him dead. He publicly proclaimed protection from poison and death by quoting Scripture, blessed his meal, then ate it with no repercussions.
#6 How and when did he die?
Anthony suffered from ergot poisoning and died in 1231 at the age of 35.
#7 What legends are associated with his death?
It was said that when he died, children cried in the streets and the bells of the church rang all on their own. Also, 30 years after his body was buried, it was unearthed and discovered to be completely decomposed except for his tongue, which seemed perfectly preserved as a testament to the power of his teaching.
#8 How does someone become a saint?
After a person has died, their life is investigated by an official expert authorized by the Church. Their initial report is submitted to the bishop of their diocese and further investigation is performed. They may then submit the individual to the office of the Pope for recognition by the universal church. If this recognition is granted, they will have been venerated by the Church, and are given the title “Venerable.”
The next level involves further research, and if warranted the person is beatified and is given the new title “Blessed.”
The final level of investigation determines whether or not miracles were performed. Proof of at least two miracles performed by God through this person must be verified. Once this is proven, the Pope may canonize this person as a saint through a public proclamation.
#9 When did St. Anthony of Padua become canonized?
St. Anthony of Padua was canonized only one year after his death, in 1232.
The power and depth of his preaching led to a further honor by the Catholic Church hundreds of years later: in 1946, Venerable Pope Pius XII granted him the title “Doctor Evangelicus,” or a “doctor of the church.”
#10 What about St. Anthony of Padua makes him the patron saint of lost items?
Some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, recognize certain saints as able to intercede before God in prayer on behalf of those suffering from a particular ailment or to pray on behalf of a certain kind of believer. Others do not believe that saints can intercede on behalf of the living when they die.
The tale of the return of his journal led to him being declared the patron saint of lost items. He is also considered to be the patron saint of lost persons or lost souls and has a number of other populations, locations, and causes associated with him as well.
Even though he did not seek such an honor, St. Anthony of Padua had prepared his mind and heart for the occasion of preaching, and it became a hallmark of his ministry, even as he had dedicated himself to an Order that focused primarily on service. He spent much time in study and prayer and was frequently assigned important posts to exercise his gifts of preaching and teaching others. He dedicated his life from an early age to please his Lord and Savior and remains an example for us to follow today.
So the next time you can’t remember where you put something, think about the example of St. Anthony of Padua and trust that God will provide.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.