Early Life

Anthony as a child
Ferdinand drives away a demon

Born in Lisbon

St. Anthony, whose baptismal name was Ferdinand, was born in Lisbon in 1195, the eldest son of an influential family. His parents had great plans for him, and so they arranged for a proper early education. They were thinking of an ecclesiastical or bureaucratic career, but Ferdinand disappointed them by choosing a life more directly dedicated to the service of the Lord.

He was known for his piety and fervor in prayer. In fact, one of the earliest legends concerning him is of how he was disturbed by a demon while he was praying, and how he chased that demon away by making a sign of the cross upon the floor.

Religious and Priest

Ferdinand in Augustinian habit
Ferdinand in Augustinian habit

Ferdinand's pious intentions brought him into more and more conflict with his family. They wanted him to be successful according to the standards of the world. They wanted him to further the good fortunes of his family. Ferdinand only wanted to respond to the call of the Lord.

When he was fifteen, after much prayer and reflection, he left his rich home and went to live in the Augustinian Abbey of St. Vincent on the outskirts of Lisbon.

The Canons Regular of St. Augustine, the religious order which he joined, have always been famous for their scholarly pursuits. It is to the Augustinians that the Saint is indebted for his intellectual formation which made him one of the most learned clerics in Europe at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

Ferdinand thought that he would find the Godly peace which he sought by fleeing the world and joining a religious order. Unfortunately, St. Vincent was too near to his home. Friends and relatives were always visiting him, bringing him gifts which embarrassed him and news of what was happening in their social world which disturbed him. He simply could not find any peace there, and his studies were suffering.

 

Ferdinand meditating on the Franciscan Martyrs
Ferdinand meditating on the Franciscan Martyrs

Finally, Ferdinand begged his superiors for a transfer to another abbey, and they sent him to the Augustinian Abbey of the Holy Cross in Coimbra (which at that time was the capital of Portugal). There he continued his studies and was ordained to the priesthood when he was 25 years old.

A New Call

After his ordination, Ferdinand was placed in charge of hospitality in his abbey. It was in this responsibility that he first came in contact with the Franciscans. In 1219 he met five followers of St. Francis who were on their way to Morocco to preach to the Muslims. He was strongly attracted by their simple Gospel life style.

Then in February of 1220, news arrived that his five Franciscan friends had been martyred in Morocco. Their remains had been gathered together and sent to Portugal where they were being venerated as relics of martyrs of the faith. The king ordered them to be placed in the Church of the Holy Cross in Coimbra.

St. Anthony becoming a Franciscan
Anthony becoming a Franciscan

Ferdinand meditated upon the heroic response of these Franciscans to the call to live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, a call that brought them even to their cross. He wanted a charismatic response to God's call to leave everything and follow Him.

Ferdinand eventually obtained permission from his superiors to join the Franciscans. He was invested with the Franciscan habit and began to learn the teachings of their holy founder St. Francis.

With this new life style, he also took on a new name. He called himself Anthony, after the hermit St. Anthony of the desert to whom the Franciscan hermitage was dedicated.

 

From Africa To Assisi

St. Anthony on the ship
Anthony on the ship at sea

Shortly thereafter, Anthony set off with another brother to die as martyrs in Morocco. He had barely arrived when he contracted a horrible fever which left him semiconscious for weeks. He did not even have the strength to stand up, let alone go into the market place to preach the Word of God. Anthony's generous dream of serving the Lord with his words and his very life had been crushed. There was only one thing left to do: surrender to the will of God.

And so Anthony said farewell to his beloved Africa, and he set sail for Portugal. But even this choice would be challenged by the Lord. His ship encountered a terrible storm which blew it off course.

Finally, the ship was forced ashore on the island of Sicily. Weak and confused as to the direction that the Lord intended for him, Anthony travelled to Assisi where there was to be a great assembly of the friars. On the feast of Pentecost in 1221 thousands of friars gathered in Assisi from all over Europe in what has come to be known as the Chapter of Mats.

Friars gathered together
Friars gathered together

There Anthony listened to the teachings of St. Francis, and he was greatly consoled. As the friars disbursed to go to their home friaries, Anthony waited for someone to give him a sign of where he should go. Finally, the provincial of Bologna, Friar Graziano, invited Anthony to follow him.

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