Although he is called Antony, this great teacher was baptised Ferdinand. He came from a noble Portuguese family. He attended the cathedral school in Lisbon, and was only 15 when he joined the Augustinian Canons. This order lived in community and engaged in work beyond their own houses. Finding there were too many distractions to his studies, Ferdinand asked permission to live in the priory at Coimbra, where for 8 years he devoted himself entirely to prayer and study.
The Franciscan Order was only 11 years old, but had captured the imagination of many and grown rapidly, with its emphasis on poverty and mission, especially to the Moors. In 1220 the relics of 5 Franciscans who had been martyred in Morocco were brought to the priory. Ferdinand, fired with enthusiasm for the Franciscan ideals, obtained a release from the Augustinian Order and joined the Franciscans in their house of St Antony at Coimbra. He there took the name Antony.
When he was 26 years old he went to Morocco, but fell ill soon after his arrival and had to return to Europe. When he set sail for Portugal, a violent storm carried the ship to Messina in Sicily. Here Antony heard of a meeting of the Franciscan General Chapter to be held in Assisi and went there. At this time Brother Elias took over the control of the Franciscan Order.
Antony was sent to a little hospice near Forli, and engaged in the most menial tasks until called upon in an emergency to preach at an ordination. At that point, his remarkable preaching ability and profound learning were revealed. The Franciscans were already taking an interest in the emerging universities. Antony was appointed as the first lector or teacher in theology to the order and taught in Bologna, then Montpellier and Toulouse.
It was in his preaching that Antony exercised his greatest influence, drawing people in their thousands from all classes of society. Soon no church could be found to hold the crowds, so he preached in the open air. Much of his preaching was against greed, including that of money lenders who charged overly high interest and he was successful in bringing back to the church many who had fallen away.
Although Antony held office in the Franciscan Order, from 1230 he devoted himself entirely to preaching in and around Padua. He was only 36 when he died, worn out by his labours and his travels. He was canonized within a year of his death. Many legends have sprung up concerning his great love of animals, including him preaching to fish, and numerous miracles are associated with his relics, which remain in Padua.
BORN: 15 August 1195,
DIED: 13 June 1231, Padua, Italy