friar and people outside

Fr. Jim Bok (center) greets guests at St. Anthony’s Kitchen in Negril, Jamaica.

The inspiration of St. Anthony

friar at pulpit

Fr. Jim speaking at his Missioning service to Jamaica in 2008 which was held at the St. Anthony Shrine in Cincinnati.

When I started my journey with the Franciscans in 1965, I quickly found out about a Franciscan named St. Anthony of Padua. There was a shrine to him in the chapel that folks frequently visited. As a good seminarian, I joined in the devotions on Tuesdays as was expected, but I confess—no special devotion to the saint welled up within me!

Fast forward to 1991, and I was made director of our province’s development office (now Friar Works) after finishing 17 years at Roger Bacon, our Franciscan high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. I became the “chief beggar” for our province. I was astounded by the number of gifts coming into the office in thanksgiving to St. Anthony for favors received.

In 1995, the 800th anniversary of St. Anthony’s birth, I led a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Anthony. Off to Lisbon, his birthplace, we went. I was shocked to learn that he was actually Portuguese and not Italian!

painting of st anthony

St. Anthony of Padua Stilling a Storm, by the Limbourg Brothers (1408) public domain

St. Anthony was originally an Augustinian in Coimbra, Portugal, when he witnessed the return of the remains of the five protomartyrs of the Franciscan Order from Morocco. Moved by their martyrdom, he transferred from the Augustinians to the Franciscans and desired to go to Morocco and suffer martyrdom. After he got sick in Morocco, he was put on a ship home and ended up in Sicily because of a storm. His story ends in Padua (Italy).

St. Anthony is known for his powerful preaching, expert knowledge of Scripture, undying love and devotion to the poor and sick, and for finding lost or stolen items. My attitude toward this incredible friar began to change.

In the Friar Works’ office, we set up a monitor where prayer intentions scroll in the chapel at our National Shrine of St. Anthony. People stop and pray for the intentions of others. Intentions sent to the office are carried to the Shrine for Tuesday devotions.

women in kitchen

The kitchen crew at St. Anthony’s Kitchen

In past years, St. Anthony’s devotion to the poor gave rise to donations of bread, given to the hungry poor in thanksgiving for favors received. Today, these gifts of bread are mostly financial, given to attend to the needs of the poor.

In September 2008, after 17 years in the Friar Works’ Office and 34 years of priestly ministry in Cincinnati, I volunteered for our mission in Jamaica! Gifts of St. Anthony Bread help sustain my ministry. On April 15, 2010, we opened a soup kitchen in Negril—ST. ANTHONY’S KITCHEN! And thanks to St. Anthony Bread donations during this COVID pandemic, we are serving 400 meals a day, Monday through Friday!

Thank you, St. Anthony, for inspiring me in my Franciscan pilgrimage.

(Fr. Jim Bok, OFM, is the pastor of Mary, Gate of Heaven, in Negril, Jamaica.)

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