by Julie Lonneman
One day, as I heard a friar recount the story of Francis,
which I thought I knew well, I heard afresh. What I heard
called me to acknowledge how faithfully Anthony listened
to the guidance of Francis.
While the logic, even the transparency, of such an observation
may be obvious to you, it inspired me all the same. I wanted
to draw out the similarities to see where they led me and
what they might teach me. I invite St. Anthony Messenger
readers on the journey.
No Twins, These Two
The man we call St. Francis of Assisi was also known as
the Poverello, or “little poor man.” Anthony’s first
biographer, an anonymous Franciscan friar, writes of Anthony
that he “was afflicted by a certain natural bulkiness.”
(I wish that kind, medieval friar were available to write
When we look back, the authentic words of Francis are none
too many, although more than many other saints left behind.
In addition to the famed “Canticle of the Creatures,” we
have fewer than a dozen formal letters, a small collection
of rules and directives for friars and other followers,
plus other prayers. Most of these writings are derived from
The humble Francis always called himself unlettered and
his writings were dictated to—and likely edited by—other
friars. As Franciscan Father Placid Hermann writes in his
“Introduction to the Writings,” Francis was “not a philosopher
given to abstract reasoning. He was a poet and an apostle.”
Education appears to have made Francis nervous.
Anthony might have experienced inner conflicts about education
himself, but then he had a lot more learning to be nervous
about! While he never lied about his extensive studies as
an Augustinian in Portugal, it was at least a year before
any of the friars in Italy knew they had a scholar, preacher
and teacher who had “seemed more skillful in washing kitchen
utensils than in expounding the mysteries of Scripture,”
as that early friar-biographer later muses.
Once the cat was out of the bag, Anthony was asked to teach
Scripture to the young friars. Francis knew that his friars
would need to preach correctly and well, if only to counter
the teachers and preachers who were spreading the Bad News
that creation was evil, sex was worse and sacraments were
of dubious value.
Anthony became the champion of the Good News—to the friars,
to the fallen-away, to the faithful. Francis was the poet,
Anthony the prose master.
I could contrast Deacon Francis with Father Anthony, priest
and confessor. I could contrast the body of the founder,
almost wasted before he breathed his last, with that of
Anthony, whose bones showed signs of penance and austerity,
but whose vocal cords remain incorrupt to this day. We see
Francis with the birds and Anthony with the lily.
We see Francis with the cross but Anthony with the infant.
Between the two, it seems we’ve seen it all.
Francis and Anthony have a lot more in common than of
as a middle name, to be sure. Both had well-to-do parents—of
which each had to let go in more dramatic fashion than has
been asked of most of us.
Francis shed his father, along with his clothes, before
the bishop of Assisi when he was only a teenager. Anthony
may have said more tender good-byes, but he never saw his
parents again after he sailed for Morocco in his late 20s.
For both men, “Our Father, who art in heaven” was a Gospel
prayer that rang true to their experience and in their hearts.
Knights, crusades and well-connected parents formed the
early sensibilities and imaginations of each man. Francis’
father, Pietro, was a merchant who appreciated beauty and
value and traveled abroad to import both from France.
Anthony’s father, according to the “Blue Book” of Portugal,
was descended from the Frenchman Godfrey of Bouillon, leader
of the First Crusade. (Others doubt this lineage.) Some
sources say Anthony’s parents served in the royal residence,
the Castelo de São Jorge. They certainly lived in its shadow.
To me, both saints, despite their talk about being unworthy
lowlifes, reveal a sense of great personal dignity. They
bowed before God, but they walked tall. Both were popular
The Middle Ages found both men in the midst of territorial
battles. Francis went to fight in the battles to preserve
the city autonomy, a political movement gaining strength
in medieval Italy—and ended up a prisoner of war. Anthony
saw much evidence of border disputes and transfers of power
as the Muslim influence waxed and waned in Portugal. Later,
both were intent on preaching the gospel to the Muslims
and Saracens. The two idealists became spiritual knights
under a banner of freedom for the soul.
The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) was a pivotal event in
Church history for these two medieval saints. In its first
session, the Council Fathers treated two major issues: the
Holy Land and the era’s “protestants,” known as the Cathars
(“pure”) or Albigensians (after Albi, France, a major
stronghold). These themes shape every follower of Francis,
who so loved the land where Jesus was born and wanted everyone
to know and live the gospel.
Great Loves of Great Saints
As is true of many other saints, both Francis and Anthony
took a while to discern their basic path in life. (This
may console many college students in search of a major.)
Francis thought he was supposed to repair church buildings.
Instead he was to restore the Catholic Church in disrepair
from bad example and misguided teachers. Anthony thought
he was to be an Augustinian, but that was but a first step
toward becoming a Franciscan. Both stumbled, doubted and
Both men wanted to be martyrs; both were denied a martyr’s
death. Both experienced stormy seas as they attempted to
evangelize the Muslims.
Francis was insulted, beaten and threatened by the sultan
of Egypt, but he was not killed. In fact, he eventually
gained the Egyptian leader’s respect.
The heroic martyrdom of the Franciscans in Morocco drew
Anthony to become a friar. While he followed their trail,
inheriting their mission to Morocco, he fell ill with a
fever either on the sea journey or soon after his arrival.
Sick for months, he nearly died but not at the hands of
Muslims. He arrived in Sicily and made his way north.
Both men loved the hermit life; neither had much chance
to savor it. Thomas Celano, early biographer of Francis,
writes: “Francis was often suspended in such sweetness of
contemplation that, caught up out of himself, he could not
reveal what he had experienced because it went beyond all
human comprehension.” He was often taxed, however, by the
demands of leading his fledgling religious order—and observing
canonical requirements such as writing a rule.
Anthony had about one year as a hermit at Monte Paolo near
Forli, Italy, before his public gifts were discovered. Near
his death, he tried again for the quiet life, but even from
his refuge in a walnut tree, people sought him out for counsel
Though each saint treasured solitude, each balanced the
inward life with love and solicitude for other people, even
involving themselves in civic concerns. In Francis’ “Canticle
of the Creatures,” verses 10 and 11 about pardon and peace
were added some time after the earlier verses to effect
and celebrate reconciliation between the bishop of Assisi
and the podesta, or mayor. Francis actually directed
this peacemaking project from his bed of illness.
Anthony, too, “called back to brotherly peace those who
disagreed with each other and gave freedom to those who
were imprisoned. He required that whatever was taken in
usury or through violence be restituted,” writes his earliest
biographer. Other chroniclers describe Anthony’s personal
efforts to free a Paduan politician, who was being held
prisoner by the head of the opposition. Anthony walked from
Padua to Verona to beg mercy for the prisoner. He was not
able to count this among his successes, however.
The two saints also shared a warm affection for Sister
Mother Earth. While Francis is official patron of the environment,
Anthony evidenced a strong affection for the earth as well.
While Francis preached to the birds, Anthony held the attention
of the fish. Air and sea were covered by this pair; they
also connected with the creatures on dry land! St. Bonaventure
(in the Major Life) describes Francis’ pet sheep,
which knelt during the friars’ prayers and bowed profoundly
during the Consecration of the Mass.
St. Anthony’s biographers include the story of a donkey
which, hungry though it was, knelt before the Eucharist,
rather than head straight for the hay it was offered. Both
stories give a vivid sense of faith in the Eucharist, in
contrast to the Cathars’ mistrust of sacramentality.
Both saints had a strong sense of place. Francis felt especially
drawn to Mt. LaVerna; Anthony requested a refuge in a tree
at Camposampiero. Yet, when Sister Death was approaching,
both men longed to be “home.”
St. Bonaventure writes that Francis “asked to be brought
to St. Mary of the Portiuncula, so that he might yield up
his spirit where he had first received the spirit of grace.”
Francis even asked to be stripped of his clothes so that
he could lie directly on the earth!
Anthony, when he knew that he was dying, asked the friars
to carry him back to his beloved Padua. He actually died
nearby at Arcella, since the journey by cart proved too
painful and difficult. Traditional paintings show him blessing
Padua’s horizon from his traveling bed of pain, just as
Francis blessed Assisi before his death.
Perfect Joy Among the Brothers
While I could link still more stories of two men born in
different nations with different gifts and temperaments,
you’ve got the idea by now, I suspect.
So—what to make of it all? Is Anthony simply a copycat
saint? Is Francis so powerful a leader that his imprint
is visible in everyone inspired by him?
I think it’s far more profound and beautiful than that.
I sense that the work of becoming holy, my task and yours,
shapes distinct individuals. Just as Pentecost celebrates
the Spirit’s expression in many languages (see Acts 2:5-11),
we express grace in myriad ways today. We are formed by
environment and grace, by politics and prayer, by Church
and conscience. All God’s creatures conspire to teach us
as well. We stumble. We stutter. We rise. We are lifted.
To read each of these saint’s written words is to reread
the Bible, particularly the Gospels. To follow each man’s
footsteps—and the message of each man’s actions—is to be
on the path of Christ. Francis and Anthony are alike because
they were shaped by the words and actions of Jesus.
This isn’t some biographical nicety. This is what I should
have expected! This is what I should expect of myself! Francis
and Anthony are brothers to one another because they are
such close kin to their Creator.
Sometimes we are asked why the patron of our magazine is
St. Anthony rather than St. Francis, the latter having founded
the Order that began this magazine. What can we say? Anthony
was the man of many words; we publish words. Anthony was
the educator; that is our mission.
I see it as one more delightful instance of “perfect joy”
in the life of Francis of Assisi. Just what is that?
In a charming—if apocryphal—story found in The Little
Flowers of St. Francis, the saint is teaching his beloved
Brother Leo how to find perfect joy. It’s not in giving
good example, not in being a healer or miracle worker, not
in knowledge and prophecy, insists Francis. As he walks,
he keeps describing wonderful spiritual gifts, but denies
that they are the source of perfect joy. Finally, an exasperated
Brother Leo asks Francis, “Father, I beg you to tell me
where perfect joy is.”
Brother Leo receives a long, long answer in which Francis
describes exposure to rain, cold, mud and hunger, then knocking
at the door of their headquarters only to hear: “Who are
The porter doesn’t recognize them and leaves them out in
the cold—not once, but three times—each time with more force
and even violence. “...[I]f we endure all those evils and
insults and blows with joy and patience, reflecting that
we must accept and bear the sufferings of the Blessed Christ
patiently for love of him,” Francis concludes, “Oh, Brother
Leo, write: ‘That is perfect joy!’”
In the light of that Franciscan parable, Francis surely
takes a lot of pleasure in granting Anthony the prominence
he has in many circles. And Anthony surely feels humbled
For both saints, perfect joy is not defined in the number
of their devotees nor how many churches or magazines are
named for them, but in seeing that Jesus becomes visible
in every age. I’m reminded of Paul writing to the Corinthians
about the role of God’s ministers: “I planted, Apollos watered,
but God caused the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Just so,
Francis planted, Anthony watered but God gives the increase.
Carol Ann Morrow, assistant managing editor of this
publication, was inspired to these reflections by her participation
in the first Educational Enrichment Program sponsored by
the Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province,
who publish St. Anthony Messenger. Author of A
Retreat With Anthony of Padua: Finding Our Way, she
traveled twice to Portugal and Italy to learn more about
Anthony and, inevitably, about Francis of Assisi, whose
life and work so inspired him.