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Friars, Laypeople Across Province Share Reflections on St. Anthony

St. Anthony of Padua (Église Saint Jacques le Majeur, Nice, Sud de la France)(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

St. Anthony of Padua is perhaps the most celebrated follower of St. Francis of Assisi, and as the patron saint of lost and stolen articles, he is also one of the Church’s most popular saints. It is said that he is second only to the Blessed Mother in intercessory prayers requested by the faithful. A passionate and influential Franciscan preacher and teacher, St. Anthony navigated turbulent twists and turns in his life. He lived the Gospel and Franciscan values of helping the poor and marginalized.

With the feast of St. Anthony celebrated on June 13, friars and laypeople who serve and work in ministries and other positions throughout Holy Name Province were asked to share their reflections on the Franciscan saint and his feast day — specifically what St. Anthony means to them, their ministries and the HNP community.

John Aherne, OFM, Parochial Vicar, St. Mary’s Parish, Pompton Lakes, N.J.
The story of St. Anthony is an inspiring one. He knew what he wanted to do with his life. He was going to preach the Gospel in Africa, but on the way, he fell sick and was shipwrecked. This placed him in a position of not being able to do what he wanted to do with his life. Then he was given an unexpected request to preach – and because of that invitation, he became one of Church’s marvelous teachers. What we learn from St. Anthony is to accept those shipwrecks in our life as opportunities by letting go of what we want our life to be and allow God to take hold. This feast day reminds us to let go of our own plans and accept God’s plan for us.

Meredith Augustin, Music Director, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, New York City
I remember my first St. Anthony feast day as music director at St. Francis 12 years ago – a very humbling experience to witness the special devotion to this Franciscan saint by thousands of people, many who took the day off from work. Since this is a major feast day in the Church, and especially in the Franciscan Order, we are called to wholly celebrate the liturgy. That means music is a big part of the celebration. I want people to be engaged in the liturgy through song. The hymn selections are sung in multiple languages and are specific to the day’s scripture readings and Gospel. St. Anthony means different things to different cultures, but he is personal for everyone. People are drawn to St. Anthony because they feel that he hears their prayers and intercedes for them, whether praying for the health of a loved one or for help in finding something lost.

Gary Burton, JPIC Coordinator and Formation Director of Third Order Secular Franciscans, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Triangle, Va.
St. Anthony is a pivotal figure in the Franciscan family – and, in a way, the Order’s first formation director. He emptied himself, as Christ did, to become vulnerable in service to others. That is the model I try to emulate as JPIC coordinator when providing leadership and serving our mission in respect life, anti-human trafficking and interfaith outreach. St. Anthony is the prime example of what it means to be Franciscan in terms of doing what you are asked, not what you desire. He allowed himself to be used as an instrument of God even when he didn’t want to do something. I draw from St. Anthony during those times when I am not sure about something, realizing it’s what I am being asked to do. St. Anthony is an example and guiding force in our parish and Franciscan community.

Thomas Conway, OFM, Executive Director, St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, Mass.
The feast of St. Anthony is different at the Shrine than at most other celebrations. The 5:15 p.m. Mass is a remarkable liturgy. The Arch Street Band provides the music and all of the friars are there. It’s a weekday, but people – mostly working people – go out of their way to attend the Mass. We distribute upwards of 2,000 bags of St. Anthony’s bread, which is a popular tradition here. Our Haitian community turns out in big numbers to express their love and devotion to St. Anthony, leaving vases and bouquets of fresh-cut flowers by his statue. I had the honor of being asked to preach at the evening Mass. I felt like I was representing all the friars. I have to admit that before my assignment to the Shrine, I was a skeptic about St. Anthony and the lost articles thing. But after hearing story after story about people who find things after praying to St. Anthony, it made me a believer. How do you think Tom Brady got back his stolen Super Bowl jersey in 2017?

Tobias Harkleroad, Founding Principal, St. Francis International School, Silver Spring, Md.
I have a particular devotion to St. Anthony as the founder of Franciscan education. In 1223, he asked permission from St. Francis to incorporate formal education into the Order. His response to Anthony was simple but telling: “I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the brothers providing that, as is contained in the Rule, you ‘do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion’ during a study of this kind.” For me as a Franciscan educator, this dialogue between St. Anthony and St. Francis – incorporating formal education into the Franciscan charism – is a vital and constant meditation about our priorities at SFI. We strive to be the kind of educators that St. Francis urged St. Anthony to be – providing an educational program that enhances the spirit of Franciscan prayer and devotion in our students.

The Virgin and Child between St.Anthony of Padua and Saint Roque (Titian)(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

John Kendall, Digital Marketing Manager, St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, Mass.
Although I grew up in a religious household, I didn’t know much about St. Anthony or the feast day until I started working at the Shrine five years ago. The Boston community fully embraces St. Anthony and the Shrine as their own. The feast day is significant because it represents the friars – their welcoming nature and smiling faces that greet everyone not just on the feast day, but every day. Besides both parents attending St. Bonaventure University, my dad joined the Franciscans – a short-lived calling that lasted six weeks. But my family remained close to the Franciscans. Whenever we visited my grandparents in New Jersey, we would stop at Siena College, which was the halfway point, to see the friars.

Carol La Salle, Principal, St. Mary’s School, Pompton Lakes, N.J.
When my brother attended the University of Padua Medical School, I was fortunate to spend a summer in Padua and Verona. I often visited the statue of St. Anthony. The legend amongst medical students was that if you visited St. Anthony’s statue and prayed to him the night before an exam, he would bless you with a good grade. The feast day evokes the story of St. Anthony going to the river and preaching to the fish because he felt the congregation was not listening. When I get nervous speaking to parents at meetings, I think about that for inspiration! Since we are a Franciscan school, our students are taught about St. Anthony as part of our Franciscan charism.

William McConville, OFM, St. Anthony Friary, St. Petersburg, Fla.
My introduction to the Franciscans was through St. Anthony – and my grandmother. I would visit my grandmother at her bungalow in Rockaway Beach. She always had the St. Anthony’s Guild publication, The Anthonian, on her coffee table – and on the back cover was a photo of 50 young friars and contact information on how to join the Franciscans. I also never forgot my grandmother’s expression of trust and faith in St. Anthony’s intercessory power. After Sunday Mass, she would pray silently before a statue of St. Anthony, asking him to heal her painful varicose vein condition. Perhaps my most interesting St. Anthony story was when I met (actress) Maureen O’Sullivan. She told me that when she couldn’t find a scarf in wardrobe to complement her ensemble, she prayed to St. Anthony. And of course, she always found the perfect scarf.

Joseph Nuzzi, Director of Evangelization, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, New York City
From the perspective of my role with R.C.I.A and adult religious education, the feast day is a reminder that it is up to us to continue St. Anthony’s mission of evangelization. He was well known for evangelizing and preaching. The Mass is always the main part of the feast day, which means St. Anthony is still evangelizing by leading us to the Word of God and the Eucharist. Many who celebrate the feast day tend to have a devotion to St. Anthony, either through family upbringing or their culture. Since the feast day brings thousands of visitors to the church here on 31st Street, on a practical level we want people to have the best liturgical experience possible. We treat the Masses as we would a Sunday liturgy – with music, procession, and wonderful homilies by our friars.

Vincent Pisani, Volunteer, Devotees of St. Anthony, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, New York City
In my household, Tuesdays belonged to St. Anthony – a family tradition that was started by my grandmother and great-aunts. I would tag along with them to St. Francis of Assisi, or another Franciscan church, for the St. Anthony Novena. This became part of my routine even in college, law school and professional life. The day I took the bar exam I went to the novena at eight in the morning and an hour later I was taking the test. This devotion led to what is now more than 35 years – mostly as an organizer – with the St. Anthony’s bread tradition – a massive undertaking on the feast day that involves dozens of volunteers at two locations distributing 70,000 to 80,000 small loaves of bread from sunup to sundown. It’s a unifying event. While an important tradition, we never let the bread overshadow the devotion and intercession to St. Anthony. People of all cultures and backgrounds fill the church for 10 Masses celebrated in four languages. St. Anthony and his example of living the Gospel unites all of us.

Images of Saints Anthony of Padua and Francis of Assisi (Friedrich Pacher)(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Francis Pompei, OFM, HNP Ministry of the Word, Syracuse, N.Y.
St. Anthony was renowned for his preaching. For the past 25 years in Ministry of the Word, before I preach at parish missions and retreats for adults and teenagers – mostly on faith, healing, suffering, and deliverance – I always pray to St. Anthony for his intercession, wisdom, and voice in the Holy Spirit. My relationship with St. Anthony became more significant two years ago when I lost my voice. Medical imagery showed a lesion on one of my vocal cords. Before canceling the parish Lenten retreats I had scheduled, I prayed for St. Anthony’s intercession with the Lord to heal my voice. I woke up the next morning with my voice back one hundred percent. In a follow-up visit with the doctor, new imagery showed no trace of the lesion, inflammation or scar tissue. St. Anthony and the Lord healed my voice, and I have the x-rays to prove it!

Benjamin Simpson, Administrative Assistant, Provincial Office, New York City
I am particularly inspired by St. Anthony’s eloquence and simplicity in his preaching, acting as a beautiful bridge between the call of St. Francis to direct action and the intellectual tradition of the Franciscans. The feast day, with its emphasis on the distribution of St. Anthony’s bread, always moves me to refocus my own spiritual life on more concrete acts of mercy and goodness. I am reminded that faith without works is dead and that I must practice what I preach and profess to believe. And, of course, I am always grateful to St. Anthony for continually helping me to find my keys!

Brian Smail, OFM, Parochial Vicar, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, New York City
St. Anthony represents the universal appeal of the Franciscan charism. All cultures and languages are drawn to him because of a certain mystique that comes from his miracles and being the patron of lost things. Yet, his miracles and things like St. Anthony’s bread for the poor are tangible – and I think that’s why there’s universal love for him across all cultures. While St. Francis is the reason I became a Franciscan friar, St. Anthony is the warmth, love, and heart of the Order. The feast of St. Anthony is a very exciting day for Franciscans. I enjoy helping distribute the blessed bread and celebrating the Spanish Mass. I take pride in being part of the universality of the values and message of the Franciscans through St. Anthony.

Michael Specht, Postulant, Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md.
When I think of St. Anthony of Padua, three thoughts come to mind. After college graduation, I spent one year with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry at St. Anthony Parish in Camden, New Jersey. The parish was a beacon of light for a poor immigrant community. Second, almsgiving is connected to devotion to St. Anthony – the breadline at the church on 31st Street, for example, which feeds hundreds of hungry New Yorkers every day. The third thing that comes to mind is St. Anthony himself – the story of how he became a Franciscan, compelled to join the friars in martyrdom when he saw the bodies of five Franciscans killed in Morocco. This spoke to his desire to evangelize and willingness to suffer a bodily death for practicing the faith and living the Gospel. For me, it calls to mind the sacrifices we are asked to endure for the good of God and the Church. I look to St. Anthony’s fervor to help me when I am struggling in my journey.

Katie Sullivan, Executive Director, Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, Philadelphia, Pa.
FVM was a part of St. Anthony of Padua Parish and the New Jersey community of Camden for many years, from 2006 to 2017. Some of our alums still return for visits with friends they made during their time at the parish. St. Anthony’s feast day always brings to mind and heart the incredible communities of friars and Camden FVMs, as well as Francis House and the parish. Their depth of faith in God, capacity for hope, willingness to work for justice and transformation and their love continue to inspire me today.

St. Anthony of Padua distributing bread (Willem van Herp I)(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Edward Trochimczuk, Director of Volunteers and Pastoral Associate, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, New York City
What impresses me most about the feast day is the love and devotion that people have for St. Anthony. Worshippers will come to 31st Street all day long for Mass and to see the St. Anthony relic on display in the lower church. They know St. Francis of Assisi Church is a welcoming place for everyone to celebrate the feast day, which we do in multiple languages for our Haitian, Hispanic and Filipino communities. When it comes to St. Anthony, I guess I am old-fashioned. I still pray to him when I lose something.

Patrick Tuttle, OFM, Pastor, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Greenville, S.C.
The Summer Academy of St. Anthony School, which is part of our year-round academic effort, gathered with parishioners for a feast day Mass and festive meal. Children presented creative drawings of St. Anthony, shared the story of the saint in their classrooms, and carried streamer poles to mimic a tradition of children in Assisi. I identify with St. Anthony’s passion [for preaching], which helps me preach in a style more characteristic of African-American Catholic spirituality. I also treasure these words of St. Anthony – looking on the crucified Christ as if in a mirror. That helps tremendously with remaining faithful through life and [ministry].

Angel Vazquez, Student Friar, St. Joseph Friary, Chicago, IL.
It wasn’t until a visit to Arch Street during my postulancy that I experienced the feast of St. Anthony for the first time. There were massive lines of people at the Shrine – and not just the poor – waiting for St. Anthony’s bread. It gave me an even greater appreciation of the charism that is Catholicism and the foundation of the Franciscans. It’s small and simple practices beyond the Mass – like blessed bread and feast days – that makes people a little more spiritual and devotional. I also heard a hilarious story from a friar, who said it used to be a practice where people would steal Baby Jesus from the arms of St. Anthony statues when they felt Anthony wasn’t listening to them – and they told him he gets Baby Jesus back when he answers their prayers. That’s the kind of power St. Anthony has with people.

Michael Watson, Principal, The Franciscan School, Raleigh, N.C.
St. Anthony is revered in the Franciscan Order for all he did in his short life as an inspired contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi, but he also sets the example centuries later for students at our school. Anthony dedicated his life to the poor and was also a gifted orator and theologian. Francis was so impressed with his reputation and dedication to the Franciscan mission that he entrusted Anthony with the theological instruction of the friars. Known for his missionary role in bringing those who had fallen away from the Catholic faith back to the Church, Anthony’s devotion continues to inspire us today. At The Franciscan School, we embrace the mission of Francis and stand as descendants of Anthony. We follow and expand that mission through our academic pursuits, service to all, and adherence to our growth in knowledge of God and His creation.

Amy Stewart-Wilmarth, Director of Health and Wellness, Holy Name Province, Butler, N.J.
St. Anthony was one of the first teachers in the Franciscan Order because St. Francis entrusted him with his followers’ pursuit of studies. He was obedient to the wishes of St. Francis – that friars should not allow their studies to interfere with helping the poor. For me, this lesson is about balancing my life with meaningful priorities. It translates to my role in the Province, helping friars find and maintain a balance between their busy ministerial lives and their health and well-being. The feast day is a reminder to recommit to this balance, with a focus on helping others.

Stephen Mangione, a public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y., is a frequent contributor to this newsletter.

Editor’s note: Reflections by friars about St. Anthony of Padua can be found on the Seasonal Resources page https://hnp.org/communications/spiritual-resources/reflections-friars-feast-st-anthony-padua/ of the HNP website.

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