painting of St. Anthony standing on shore

‘St. Anthony Preaching to the Fish’ by Paolo Veronese (1580) public domain

The many changes in St. Anthony’s life

When I reflect on St. Anthony, I am taken with the many surprises that God had in store for him. Fernando, as he was called, joined the Augustinians in Lisbon at an early age. Distracted by the busyness of an urban monastery, he moved to a quieter Augustinian house away from the city. There he encountered some Franciscan friars who had built themselves a hermitage dedicated to the fourth-century St. Anthony of Egypt. When the bodies of six Franciscan friars who had been martyred in Morocco were brought to Portugal, Fernando was inspired. He asked to leave the Augustinians and join the Franciscans. In his new community, he took the name Anthony, remembering the hermitage where he first encountered Franciscans.


Fr. Loren Connell, OFM

Friar Anthony set sail for Morocco in imitation of the martyrs, but he fell ill and was sent back home. The ship home was blown off course, and he ended up in Sicily. Though frustrated, he settled into his new brotherhood and eventually came to the attention of St. Francis, who recognized his love of Scripture and asked him to teach the other brothers. His words touched people’s lives, and the new teacher soon became a popular preacher. He died near Padua at the age of 36.

From Portugal to Italy, from Augustinian to Franciscan, from Fernando to Anthony, from would-be martyr to teacher and preacher, our saint’s life did not follow the direction that he expected. God continually surprised him. We are not told how Anthony initially responded to his changing circumstances. Was he disappointed, hurt, angry? We’ll never know. We do know that each time, with God’s grace, he embraced the change. In the end, God embraced him. If we are honest with ourselves, whatever our twists and turns and struggles and disappointments, do our lives not look a whole lot like Anthony’s? God is good!

(Fr. Loren Connell, OFM, serves at the St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa.)

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