From the Shrine in Boston, Massachusetts, and the church on West 31st Street in New York City, to St. Anthony Parish in Butler, New Jersey, and St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland – and others in between – friars, worshippers, and congregations throughout the Province celebrated the feast of St. Anthony of Padua last week in traditional, unique, prayerful, and engaging activities and events that honored Anthony’s life of teaching, preaching, counsel, and care for the poor.
Anthony’s Day at the Shrine on Arch Street in Boston
To say that St. Anthony has a special place in the hearts of friars and worshippers at the Church on Arch Street would be an understatement of great enormity. Next to Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, the feast of the saint from Padua is one of the biggest days of the calendar year for St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. This year was even more significant.
“On Jan. 16, 1946, Pope Pius XII, in the encyclical letter Exulta Lusitania Felix, declared St. Anthony of Padua to be a Doctor of the Church. The following year, the friars at Arch Street chose St. Anthony as the patron saint of the Shrine. This year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the presence of the Franciscans on Arch Street,” said Thomas Conway, OFM, executive director of St. Anthony Shrine.
In this milestone year, the June 13 feast day was even more focused on St. Anthony and the Shrine – in particular, the friars’ many community outreach ministries and programs that feed the hungry, care for the homeless, provide healthcare for the most vulnerable population in Boston – homeless women – and comfort for the grief-stricken.
“We made the day all about St. Anthony – and consistent with his care for the poor, we coincided our annual Day of Giving with the feast day,” explained Maryanne Rooney-Hegan, the Shrine’s chief philanthropy officer. “We are grateful to all of our Shrine community and benefactors who made their gifts online and in-person, helping us to successfully meet our fundraising goals – and, ultimately, help the friars and our team of volunteers assist hundreds of poor, needy and distraught in downtown Boston through our Franciscan Food Center, The Rita A. DiMento Medical Clinic, Father Mychal Judge Recovery Center, homeless street outreach, and many other programs here at the Shrine.”
Tom said the friars are grateful for the generosity and support of the people of Boston. “People love the friars and want to do everything they can to help us remain downtown, providing liturgies and a wide range of social services for the poor. St. Anthony, with his reputation for preaching and concern for the poor, is the inspiration,” said Tom.
Worshippers flocked to the Church on Arch Street throughout the day for contemplative prayer and Masses, whose Scripture readings and homily messages were centered on St. Anthony. A team of 15 friars and other volunteers distributed 500 loaves of St. Anthony Bread in the lobby of the Shrine, from 6:30 in the morning to four that afternoon.
“In my time here, I have heard countless stories of people who have successfully appealed for the intercession of St. Anthony. One characteristic of the congregation at the Shrine is that they cover the entire spectrum in terms of wealth, education, and sophistication. The devotion toward St. Anthony cuts across all of the Shrine’s demographics,” said Tom.
In an email sent to Shrine supporters prior to the feast day, Tom said, “Please know how profoundly grateful I am for all that you do to help us live out the Gospel in downtown Boston. St. Anthony is revered for his kindness and compassion. Let us pray that he will work small miracles in each of our hearts so that we might carry Christ’s love into the world.”
Lilies and Blessed Bread in New York City
At St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street, the fragrance of lilies greeted the senses, reminding worshippers that it was the feast of St. Anthony. Adorning the church with bouquets of lilies on June 13 became a tradition a few years ago, according to Thomas Gallagher, OFM, pastor at St. Francis. Worshippers were invited to purchase a lily for the church, and to provide a special intention or the name of a loved one to be included in the feast day prayers of the friars.
Distributing St. Anthony Bread – a tradition established by John Felice, OFM, in the early 1970s when he was pastor at 31st Street – kicked off at 8 a.m. on the sidewalk in front of the church and the entryway on 32nd Street, where volunteers passed out hundreds of small loaves throughout the day while friars greeted passersby. Tom said there was an expanded schedule of Masses in five languages – English, Spanish, Haitian, Kreyol and Filipino – as well as extended hours and additional friars for confessions.
“In some ways, the feast of St. Anthony feels bigger at 31st Street than the feast day of our patron. For many, it’s like making a pilgrimage because of the St. Anthony shrines and grotto we have at our church,” said Tom, noting that worshippers enthusiastically snapped photos of themselves with vases of lilies in the background near the statue of Anthony at the entrance, the shrine on the side of the church, and the grotto.
“People talk about all sorts of healing experiences that come from praying to St. Anthony. Someone told me when he was an infant, doctors told his mother he was dying. His mother came to the shrine at 31st Street to pray before St. Anthony. She credited his miraculous healing to Anthony’s intercession,” said Tom.
A post on the church Facebook page on the day after the feast, said, “The friars and staff would like to thank the hundreds of people who came to pray with us yesterday for the feast of St. Anthony. What a joy it was to have the church full, mass-after-mass, and your voices ringing from the rafters.”
Handing Out Medals in Butler
To celebrate the patron of their church, the friars at St. Anthony of Padua gave out St. Anthony medals – 700 in total! – to parishioners who attended the Masses on the weekend before the feast day, according to Joseph Juracek, OFM, pastor of the Butler, New Jersey, parish.
“We encouraged people to take extra medals to give to friends, family, and any shut-in neighbors they know,” said Joe. “Our parishioners appreciated the effort to make the feast of St. Anthony special – although this year with Trinity Sunday on the same weekend, we couldn’t do as much as we would’ve liked, such as celebrating the Mass of St. Anthony and preaching about him at the Sunday Masses,” he added, noting that the congregation has a group of parishioners who are devoted to St. Anthony and pray the novena every Tuesday and celebrate the 13 Tuesdays.
On the feast day, parishioners participated in a Holy Hour and benediction – which Joe said was a great success from a participation perspective, with 40 people attending in person at the church and another 90 watching via live-stream on the Internet. The Holy Hour, which was presided by Jim Bernard, OFM, included psalms, prayer, Scripture readings, and preaching, as well as time for silent reflection, according to Joe.
“With his powerful preaching, expert knowledge of Scripture, and undying love and devotion to the poor and sick, St. Anthony is an inspiration for us as friars, and for the whole Christian community,” said Joe.
Anthony a Multicultural Saint in Silver Spring
The parishioners at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, celebrated the feast of St. Anthony at a special intercultural Mass, where afterwards friars distributed St. Anthony Bread to all who attended. But that was just the beginning at the most culturally diverse parish in the country. Last Friday was the start of the annual nine-day Novena to St. Anthony by the parish’s Bangladesh and Indian community, the largest of its kind in the state, according to Brian Jordan, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus. He said the nine-day novena will be entirely in the Bangla language, including the Scripture readings and music.
In a phone interview in advance of the novena, Brian said he anticipated 300 to 400 people on each weekday, and that the numbers would increase on weekends when it traditionally draws Bangla-speaking populations from New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The novena will culminate this Sunday, June 26, with a Mass celebrated by the bishop of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, which he said is expected to draw close to 1,400 Indian and Bangladeshi worshippers.
Brian said that Catholicism may be a bare minority in Bangladesh (a country that is 89% Muslim and 10% Hindu), but this cultural community of faithful at St. Camillus is unwavering in their religious conviction. “There’s something about St. Anthony cutting across all cultures. His preaching, teaching, and wise counsel connects with people from all over the world,” said Brian, who recalled his encounter with a group of Syrian Catholics at the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy, and the impressionable words of a woman in the group. “I told them I always pray to St. Anthony when I lose my keys. She said they pray to St. Anthony because they lost their country.”
Weekly Novena in Triangle
With the parish school closed for summer, and parishioners either working (since the feast fell on a weekday) or already vacationing, there was nothing special planned this year at St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle, Virginia. But Anthony is far from forgotten at the northern Virginia parish, says John O’Connor, OFM, pastor at St. Francis, where parishioners pray the traditional novena to St. Anthony every Tuesday.
Integrating Anthony into Campus Ministry in Clemson
For Daniel McClellan, OFM, every day is St. Anthony day. That’s because Dan, director of campus ministry at Clemson University in South Carolina, integrates St. Anthony into student ministry on a regular basis, using the Franciscan saint as an example of “the development of a spirituality of work.
“Movements among our collegians do good work in promoting the practices of ‘prayer and devotion’ – values that Francis admonished Anthony to safeguard when he gave him permission to retain the tools of his trade (books) and pursue his vocation as a preacher and teacher,” said Dan, adding, “but such movements need to do more to awaken in students the realization that their careers and professions are ‘practices’ that should keep the common good in mind. That’s a big deal for folks who will be spending most of their time as adults at work.”
Dan continued, “There is no such thing as Christian or Catholic architecture, engineering, law enforcement or journalism. But having a Gospel end in mind is essential if these professions and one’s career in pursuing them is to make a difference. Work is a grace because it’s a means of evangelization. One’s enterprise, whether practicing medicine or law, driving a bus, or working as a checkout cashier, sustains human dignity, builds community, and serves the common good as a means of spreading the Gospel,” said Dan, who is also pastor of St. Andrew Church, located a few blocks from the Clemson campus.
“This is something that’s understated in our R&R process. We should take a cue from Anthony and spend more time on the social analysis that would help us know where the ‘grace of working’ we possess is most needed,” added Dan.