The feast of St. Anthony of Padua is ordinarily celebrated on June 13, the day of his death in 1231. As June 13 this year falls on a Sunday the Church asks that we celebrate the Liturgy for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary time. As is the custom, here at St. Peter's, when the feast of St. Anthony falls on a Sunday we celebrate the feast on Monday, June 14. We encourage you to join us this year as we celebrate St. Anthony's feast at the 11:40 am and 1:15 pm Masses Monday.
While most Franciscan parishes have Tuesday prayers to St. Anthony, I was intrigued to discover that St. Peter's Church has an historic reason to honor this special saint each Tuesday. In the commemorative book published for the dedication of our present church building on September 7, 1953, I found the following description (of old St. Peter's Church located at Polk & Clark) of why St. Anthony has been an important component of our history. The unnamed author wrote:
"By 1870, Chicago's population numbered more than 500,000. St. Peter's had grown to a parish of 1,200 families with two schools. Then came the disastrous Chicago fire. On a Sunday night, October 8, 1871, the church bells rang out the alarm. The life of the city was swallowed up in devastating flames a mile wide and four miles long.
Fanned by high winds and roaring through the tinder-dry, frame buildings, the fire which had started on the near west side, raced toward the lake. Early Monday morning the flames leapt across the river at Polk street. St. Louis Church at Polk and Sherman, where the French-speaking Catholic worshipped, crumpled. The old Bridewell (the City's short-term jail) at Polk and Wells perished next in the flames. It was but two blocks away from St. Peter's.
The people of the parish hastened to the church as to their last refuge. Piling their pitifully few belongings on the steps and against the walls of the church, they crowded inside to pray. There they found the pastor, Fr. Peter Fischer, always the devoted shepherd of his people, kneeling in prayer, imploring help from heaven.
Fr. Fischer was praying aloud. And the terrified members of his flock distinctly heard his solemn vow to erect a church in honor of St. Anthony of Padua, if God should spare his church and school.
All of a sudden, the fire changed its course. The wind veered northward, and St. Peter's, its schools, and its people were spared. Actually, St. Anthony acquired two churches for himself that day.....St. Anthony's Church, that Fr. Fischer built in 1873, and St. Peter's Church, which from that day today, has been the center of Chicago's Tuesday devotion to the miracle-worker of Padua, St. Anthony.
A heavy rain that evening helped put out the fire. Three hundred lives were lost and over 17,500 buildings destroyed. Of the more than 150 homeless families of the parish, as many as possible were housed, fed, and otherwise provided for in St. Peter's facilities."
Seeking the intercession of St. Anthony of Padua in the face of extreme danger on an October evening in 1871, began a tradition that continues to this day. Though the formula and words have changed through the years, the Franciscan friars and people of St. Peter's Church pray together after Masses on Tuesdays our devotions in honor of St. Anthony.
Since the COVID pandemic we have used a special request praying:
St. Anthony, we ask especially your intercession in this time of a world-wide pandemic that those afflicted might be healed, that you would watch over all care-givers of the sick and help all who are working to prevent the spread of this disease. We also ask that you might help us in our personal requests as in silence we present them to the Lord (pause). Humbly and with trust in God we ask that you hear our prayers, through Christ our Lord.
So who was St. Anthony of Padua? Anthony is more than the saint to pray to if we have lost something. Fernando di Martino was born in Portugal ca 1195 into an aristocratic and prestigious family. He was raised in Lisbon and at an early age joined the Augustinian Order. He was a bright young man and took to prayer and theological study with enthusiasm. He was ordained at 25 years of age. He was at peace with contemplation and study until a chance encounter with some of the early Franciscans, who were on their way to Morocco to preach the Gospel to the Muslims…. forever changed his life.
Moved by the martyrdom and witness of these early Franciscans in Morocco… Fernando asked and was given permission to leave the Augustinians and joined the Franciscans as Friar Anthony (named after St. Anthony of the desert).
In the Fall of 1220 Anthony [25yrs old] himself set off to preach the Gospel in Morocco… But serious illness struck him soon after arriving and forced him to return to his homeland. But on the way back home….his ship was battered by severe storms and he was shipwrecked on the shores of Sicily. Fortunately for him…. there were Franciscans nearby where he stayed helping them….immersing himself in contemplation, prayer and domestic chores as he slowly recovered his health. His skill as a great teacher and preacher was soon evident so that…….
Anthony became not a missionary to Muslims but truly a Man of the Gospel to all who met him. Sent to preach against heretics in the area around Bologna… Anthony sought to strike a balance between pastoral activity, contemplation and solitude. He worked tirelessly in living and preaching the Gospel until worn down by his demanding ministry he again fell ill and died on 13 June 1231, scarcely 36 years old and only 11 as a Franciscan.
That Anthony was highly thought of by St. Francis, the friars and the Church is evident from a brief note sent by Francis to Anthony in 1223/24… St. Francis was strong in his opposition to learning for status or to improve one’s social standing…fearing it would lead his friars from following the Gospel. But to Anthony he wrote,
“Brother Francis sends his wishes of health to Brother Anthony, my bishop. It pleases me that you teach sacred theology to the brothers, as long as…. in the words of the Rule… you do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion with study of this kind.”
Anthony never wavered from Francis’ directive… to remain faithful to living the Gospel and passing on his knowledge to the brothers, calling all to faithfulness to Christ. As we celebrate his feast tomorrow (June 14)
I encourage you to learn more about this holy man whose brief life of 36 years continues to influence so many to stay faithful to the Gospel way of life.