The Basilica of St. Anthony glows in Padua's soft evening sunlight. Anthony's last years were spent in this city. His body lies in this magnificent shrine where thousands visit his tomb each month.
PHOTO BY JACK WINTZ, O.F.M.
IN “ANTHONY OF PADUA: The Portugal
Years,” published in our May issue, we left St.
Anthony as he was preparing to sail from Portugal
to Morocco. The saint’s dream was to
become a missionary to the Muslims in that
country and, indeed, a martyr for Christ.
As most of us know, to Anthony’s deep disappointment,
his mission failed. Anthony fell seriously
ill in Morocco and set sail back for Portugal
in hope of regaining his health, or so he thought.
But on the journey back, a mighty wind swept the
ship badly off course and it landed in Sicily.
Anthony Goes to Assisi, Monte Paolo and Forlì
With fraternal care, the friars in Sicily nursed
Anthony back to reasonably good health and
encouraged him to go along with them to the
Pentecost Chapter of Franciscans (1221) near
Assisi, in central Italy.
The chapter was a large meeting of Franciscan
friars gathered from all locations—near and far—where the friars then served. St. Francis of Assisi,
the Order’s founder, was there. Anthony certainly
saw or heard Francis, and may have met
him on this occasion.
Because Anthony was a newcomer to the Order,
the chapter ended without his receiving any formal
So Anthony took the initiative to introduce
himself to the provincial minister of the Romagna
region in northern Italy and asked to travel back
with him and stay in one of the friaries of his
Because Anthony was still recuperating from his
illness and perhaps, too, from the emotional disappointment of his failed mission
in Morocco, he was longing
for a place of prayer and tranquillity
to sort out his life in a
In Romagna, Anthony discovered
just that kind of opportunity.
The provincial asked him to
serve as priest for four brothers
living in a hermitage at Monte
Paolo, not far from the town of
Forlì. He would have plenty of
time for solitary prayer.
Anthony learned, moreover,
that one of the friars at the hermitage
had built a cell in a cave
nearby that would be ideal for
this kind of prayer. With the
friar’s approval, Anthony went
out from the hermitage almost
every day to pray in the cave
and reinforce his union with God. For penance,
he took with him only some bread and a small
container of water. Anthony lived at the hermitage
of Monte Paolo for nearly 11 months.
Then came an event that would change
Anthony’s life forever. He and the other friars were
invited to an ordination ceremony in the town
of Forlì, located some 10 miles from Monte Paolo.
A good number of Franciscan and Dominican
friars were there. The local superior invited several
Dominicans to address those assembled, but
all begged off. Finally, the superior turned to
Anthony and insisted that he share with the
invited guests whatever the Holy Spirit might
inspire him to say.
Anthony complied with the superior’s wishes
and preached humbly yet earnestly from the
heart. Everyone was amazed at the wisdom, power
and depth of his words and his vast knowledge
of Scripture, acquired during his years as an
The event catapulted Anthony into a new
career as a brilliant preacher and evangelist—a
career that he would pursue tirelessly for the rest
of his life.
It also brought about his transfer to Bologna,
a prominent university city about 40 miles away.
Anthony Comes to Bologna
The Franciscan province of Romagna, to which
Anthony was now attached, had its headquarters
in Bologna. This was where Anthony found a
convenient base for his new preaching ministry.
Because Anthony’s previously hidden gifts were
now out in the open, he was soon tapped by the
province to teach theology in Bologna to the friars
who were preparing for the priesthood.
It was while Anthony was living in Bologna
that he received a letter from St. Francis, written
around 1223. This historic letter granted Anthony
permission to teach theology to the friars. The text
was short and to the point: “Brother Francis sends
his wishes of health to Brother Anthony....It
pleases me that you teach sacred theology to the
brothers, as long as—in the words of the Rule—you ‘do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and
devotion’ with study of this kind.”
Eventually, teaching theology to the friars in
Bologna ended for Anthony when he was sent to
southern France as a popular preacher. A number
of heretical groups were afoot in Europe at this
time, confusing many with their strange doctrines.
Because of Anthony’s profound knowledge
of Scripture, his training in theology and his
persuasive skills as a preacher, he was well
equipped to counter these heretical teachings.
Between 1227 and 1230, Anthony served as
the provincial minister of Romagna.
Anthony Settles in Padua
During the last two or three years of his short life,
Anthony’s efforts and zeal as a public preacher
were confined, for the most part, to the city of
Padua. The crowds that came to see him were
often immense, at times reaching an estimated
30,000. When churches could not hold such
throngs, Anthony had to move outside to the
piazzas or open fields. This was especially true
when he preached his famous Lenten sermons in
After celebrating Mass and preaching in the
mornings, he would hear confessions for long
stretches of time. Anthony was tremendously
popular with the Paduans, but the work was
Treehouse in Camposampiero. Finally,
Anthony knew he needed a break and
more time dedicated to God alone.
Perhaps he also sensed that his short life was
nearing its end. He was about 36 years old at the
He withdrew from the city of Padua to the
town of Camposampiero, some 30 miles north of
Padua. There a nobleman, Count Tiso, had earlier
built a hermitage for friars seeking more time
for contemplative prayer. With Tiso’s help,
Anthony had a solitary hut—something like a
small treehouse—built in the branches of a large
walnut tree in a thick forest, not far away from
the Franciscan hermitage.
The saint spent much of the last weeks and
months of his life in that small treehouse, praying
and working on sermon notes to assist other
preachers of the Word.
Dying at Arcella. One day, however, when
Anthony came down from the tree to join the other friars for lunch, he began to feel deathly ill.
He asked his confreres to take him back to Padua.
After laying the saint in an oxcart, the group of
friars headed toward Padua.
When they got just outside Padua, however,
they saw that Anthony’s condition was worsening.
They decided to stop at the Franciscan friary
at Arcella, next to a Poor Clare monastery. It was
here that St. Anthony would take his last breath.
As his final moments drew near, Anthony
received the Sacrament of Reconciliation and
sang a hymn to the Virgin Mary. Then, as noted
in the First Life (the earliest biography of
Anthony), the dying friar “suddenly raised his eyes
toward heaven and with a stunned look, stared
in front of himself for a long time. When the friar
who was supporting him asked what he saw, he
answered, ‘I see my Lord.’”
The saint’s journey had finally and gloriously
ended. It was June 13, 1231.
Thousands Visit Tomb in Padua
The following year, Pope Gregory IX, moved by
the many miracles taking place at Anthony’s
tomb, solemnly declared him a saint.
In 1263, the construction of the Basilica of St.
Anthony was completed enough that his bones could be transferred there. His tongue and vocal
cords were found to be intact. Thousands of people
visit his tomb every month.
People around the world remember him in
novenas and as the saint who finds lost objects.
But he is also honored as a great spiritual guide
and teacher of God’s word. In 1946, Pope Pius XII
declared St. Anthony of Padua a Doctor of the
Jack Wintz, O.F.M., is senior editor of this magazine, serving on
the staff since 1972. His book Anthony of Padua: Saint of the People (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005) is now in its second printing.