Here’s a saint study about St. Anthony of Padua, complete with lesson ideas and activities.
By Kate Daneluk
Most Catholics (and even many non-Catholics!) have heard of St. Anthony. There’s more to this saint than the popular “Tony, Tony, come around; something’s lost and can’t be found,” and you and your students are sure to enjoy the many facets of St. Anthony!
About St. Anthony of Padua
St. Anthony of Padua was born Fernando Martins in Lisbon, Portugal and grew up in a wealthy family. His desire for God started young and he set off at 15 to join the monastery of St. Augustine. The monastery life was not as centered on education, prayer, and reflection as he hoped. His friends frequently visited and he found the continual chats, which usually included political debates, to be a distraction. He was sent to Coimbra for nine years of intense study in Augustinian Theology. During this time, he was ordained a priest.
A group of Franciscan Friars who had gone as missionaries to Morocco were cruelly martyred for the faith and their remains were returned to the city with great honor. Fernando was deeply moved and inspired by the opportunity to truly give oneself so fully to God through martyrdom. He requested a transfer to the Franciscan Order and a missionary assignment to Morocco. Upon becoming a Franciscan, he took the name Anthony.
Of course, in these times, travel was difficult, dangerous, and uncertain. Anthony’s ship was blown off course and after many months he arrived sick and weak in Sicily. There, he was nursed back to health by fellow friars. He was an unassuming, quiet visitor. With his poor health, travel was out of the question and Italy his new home.
A group of Dominicans came to visit the Friary. The Dominicans were known for their sermons, so the hosts assumed that the guests would be providing the homily at Mass. The Dominicans, however, were not planning on preaching. Since no homily was prepared, Anthony was called on to step up and speak a simple, impromptu reflection by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Not much was expected, but the insight and eloquence of the holy man was an inspiration and surprise to everyone.
Suddenly, Anthony was pushed into the public eye as word of his powerful preaching spread. Crowds would gather in excess of the capacity of the churches, forcing him to preach in the large public squares and open fields. He also was given teaching assignments in higher education which is what brought him to Padua. He came to love the city, which was an academic, economic and cultural center in 13th century Italy. The greatest years of his ministry followed. Anthony had an amazing way of combining very sound theology and correct doctrine, a result of his years of study, with an ability to explain even complex ideas simply and accessibly. This ability was a big factor in his declaration as a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946.
Anthony was appointed provincial superior of northern Italy for the Franciscan order and delivered a memorable homily by invitation of Pope Gregory IX. Word of the holy man of Padua spread and throngs continued to come to hear him preach. After Mass, he would spend entire days fasting and hearing Confessions. He was spread very thin, often neglecting his own physical needs and his health declined. After a particularly rigorous season of service through the Lent of 1231, he retreated to a small, nearby town and died in Arcella after blessing Padua from a distance. He was a mere 36 years old and had spent only about 10 years in active ministry after 10 years of education. He was declared a saint within the year by Pope Gregory IX due to the multitude of miracles at his tomb.
Anthony is a wonderful friend and example to our young students. Called early to his vocation, he accomplished so much in his short life. But consider that these accomplishments were the result of a fine balance of Anthony’s proactive quest to follow his heart and his humble acceptance when God’s plan differed from what he planned and hoped for. If we can guide our students to embrace this wisdom, they will do great things in this world.
Fun facts about St. Anthony of Padua
- lost items, people and souls
- fishermen, sailors, and travelers
- poor and oppressed peoples
- animals, horses, and runts of litters
- pregnant women and those struggling to conceive
- elderly people
- faith in the Blessed Sacrament
- Brazil, Portugal, and Native Americans
The miraculous experiences of St. Anthony:
- Fish came to listen to him preach when the heretics wouldn’t.
- The child Jesus miraculously appeared to him in prayer.
- His Psalter was stolen by an unhappy novice who left the monastery. After earnest prayer for it to be found, the Psalter was returned by a repentant novice who recommitted to the monastic life.
- While his body corrupted after death, his tongue remained incorrupt.
- He miraculously appeared to two Franciscan sisters to guide them on their pilgrimage.
- When cloth that touched his relics were tossed into the sea, a dangerous storm was calmed.
- To fulfill a challenge by a heretic on the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a mule which had been kept hungry for three days, bowed before the Eucharist in St. Anthony’s hands rather than partake in a serving of oats.
- St. Anthony miraculously reattached and healed the amputated foot of a boy.
- At St. Anthony’s request, a new baby spoke and acknowledged his father, restoring the trust of the jealous husband.
- As a child, he called the sparrows into a locked room so he could take a break from guarding the grain from them and attend Mass.
- While preaching to a crowd of people, a storm broke out but the people and the ground under them remained dry.
- Anthony had the gift of bilocation so he could keep his obligation to sing the Alleluia at the monastery while teaching at the cathedral.
- Among other miracles, there have been numerous healings especially with deformities of the limbs and even some resurrections.
St. Anthony’s titles:
- St. Anthony of Padua
- St. Anthony of Lisbon
- St. Anthony the Wonder Worker
- Hammer of Heretics
- Ark of the Covenant
X in your classroom:
The stories and life of St. Anthony provide a Catholic perspective with several topics across the curriculum:
- History/Social Studies – Medieval Europe/Portugal, Morocco, Italy, Moorish Empire, travel in medieval times, the monastic system, health and illnesses of medieval times
- Geography – Portugal, Spain, Italy, Morocco
- Literature – “seeking your bliss”, following your dreams, overcoming obstacles, changing the path of one’s life
- Science – anatomy in relation to healings, earth science in relation to the miracles of weather
- Religion – voluntary poverty, martyrdom, bending to the will of God, vocation, St. Anthony had great devotion to the Incarnation and the true presence in the Eucharist
Here are some activities you can use in your classroom relating to St. Anthony:
- Storytime/Drama (grades K – 3) – Inspire love for the Eucharist by having the children act out the stories of St. Anthony and the Sparrows and St. Anthony and the Donkey. The Story of St. Anthony’s stolen Psalter establishes his patronage of lost items and communicates the power of prayer.
- Reading and discussion (grades 3 and up): Either read aloud or have the class read an age-appropriate biography of St. Anthony. Follow up with discussion questions (Adapt as needed for comprehension and vocabulary. These questions are designed for older students.):
- How did St. Anthony’s life turn out different than he planned? Do you think his actual life was better than his plan?
- St. Anthony was very attracted to the extreme lifestyle of the Franciscan order and voluntarily took on poverty and suffering. Today, it is some of the strictest and most demanding orders, like the Sisters of Charity, that have the highest vocation numbers. Why do you think that is?
- Why was St. Anthony such a great and famous preacher? What were the characteristics of his preaching style?
- Comparison Essay (grades 5 and up) – Assign students a paper comparing the lives of St. Francis and St. Anthony. There are many parallels.
- Expository Essay (grades 5 and up) – St. Anthony is an excellent person to include in an essay on vocation, Franciscan spirituality, or voluntary poverty and mortification.
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.