Happy feast of St. Anthony of Padua. This thirteenth century saint is the namesake of St. Anthony Foundation, and quite understandably so. For one reason, he brought together, in a unique way, the habits of a great friar scholar with a dedicated ministry to the poor in the Italian city of Padua—just as St. Anthony’s founder, Fr. Alfred Boeddeker OFM, a former theology professor, moved to the Tenderloin and started a dining room to feed the hungry.
“When people lose their appreciation of the inherent dignity of those who are poor, St. Anthony guides them to our Dining Room.”
The story goes that in 1950 Fr. Alfred, frustrated by the daily line outside the friary of hungry folks looking for a meal, knelt in front of the statue of St. Anthony in St. Boniface Church. The statue showed St. Anthony giving a loaf of bread as he did 800 years ago when he reached out to the poor of northern Italy. Fr. Alfred said to himself, “Why don’t you do that?” After pondering the possibilities, Fr. Alfred asked St. Anthony “What should I do?” and the answer came back, “You do it and I’ll help.” And for 65 years now, St. Anthony has helped the friars and their successors serve over 41 million meals to poor and low-income San Franciscans.
St. Anthony is known throughout the world as the patron saint of lost things. This devotion arose from a story about how the teacher Anthony thought he had misplaced a book of the Psalms in which he had written extensive notes for the classes that he taught. He prayed that it would be found. Shortly after, the friar who had taken it with him when he left the brothers to returned to the world was filled with remorse and returned the lost book to St. Anthony. Here at St. Anthony’s we like to think that our patron’s success at finding what is lost helps us in countless ways. When people lose their appreciation of the inherent dignity of those who are poor, St. Anthony guides them to our Dining Room where they find brothers and sisters who are hungry, but who share the same dignity with which we have all been created. When we were raising the money for the capital campaign for our new building, we hoisted our statue of St. Anthony to a spot overlooking the construction site, hoping that he would help us find the remaining funds needed to complete the project. We did it and he helped.
“St. Anthony was the most popular preacher of his day—think of the best TED talk you’ve ever heard.”
St. Anthony was the most popular preacher of his day—think of the best TED talk you’ve ever heard. It’s been said that he had a tremendous voice and spoke eloquently, but his real success was attributed to the fact that he lived a simple life, just like the people to whom he preached. In short, he walked his talk. His example inspires us here at St. Anthony’s—it’s not just what we do, it’s how we do it. Whether it’s handing a senior a tray of food, helping a women pick out school clothes for her kids or listening to a young man talk about his addiction, we do that in a way that respects their dignity as God’s creations.
Barry Stenger is the Executive Director of St. Anthony’s