For more than 100 years, Sacred Heart Catholic Church (in downtown Tampa, FL) had been under the pastoral guidance of the Jesuits. When we Franciscans arrived at Sacred Heart in 2005, we were quite surprised to find that one of the clerestory windows (the ones up high in the nave vault) was Saint Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi. In fact, we Franciscans still have a brief letter, in Francis’ own hand, written to Anthony. Most people know St. Anthony of Padua as the patron saint of lost and stolen articles, but have you ever wondered why he is that particular patron saint?
The Patron Saint of Lost Things. The reason for invoking St. Anthony’s help in finding lost or stolen things is traced back to an incident in his own life. As the story goes, Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him. You have to remember this was before the age of the printing press and so all books were of great value, and besides the value of the book, the psalter had the notes and comments he had made to use in teaching students in his Franciscan Order.
A novice who had already grown tired of living religious life decided to depart the community. Besides going AWOL, he also took Anthony’s psalter! Upon realizing his psalter was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned to him, and after his prayer the thieving novice was moved to return the psalter to Anthony and to return to the Order, which accepted him back. Legend has embroidered this story a bit. It has the novice stopped in his flight by a horrible devil, brandishing an ax and threatening to trample him underfoot if he did not immediately return the book. Obviously a devil would hardly command anyone to do something good, but the core of the story would seem to be true. The stolen book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna.
In any event, shortly after his death people began praying through Anthony to find or recover lost and stolen articles. And the “Responsory of St. Anthony” composed by his contemporary and brother friar, Julian of Spires, proclaims, “The sea obeys and fetters break/And lifeless limbs thou dost restore/While treasures lost are found again/When young or old thine aid implore.”