Antony was born into the nobility, the family of the Marquis della Chiesa, and a collateral ancestor of Pope Benedict XV. He was well educated. Showing a taste early in life for he things of God, he grew up with the hope of becoming a religious. His father, who was a man of some importance, opposed this wish. Not until Antony was 22 was he able to make the break with his family and enter the monastery at Vercelli.
Here he distinguished himself for both sanctity and learning. Being a good preacher, he was for some years the companion of Saint Bernardine of Siena, in his missionary journeys through Italy. Antony was prior at the friaries of Como, Savona, Florence, and Bologna.
Antony gives us a picture of one who followed the Dominican life perfectly, managing, most of the time, to escape public notice. There is in his life very little of the glamorous or the unusual. He kept the rule, was a good superior, and a just administrator. Shunning applause, he was always serene.
The legends mention that he was particularly devoted to Our Lady, which is something one takes for granted in a Dominican, and that he conversed with her, in ecstasy, several times. He had the gift of reading hearts and was a sought-after director of souls. He also healed many sick people with his blessing. However, if any miracles are ordinary ones, these may be so described; they could be given as typical of most of early Dominicans.
At one time, Antony was on a ship that was captured by pirates, but at his prayer, the pirates spared the passengers and brought them safely to land. One of the very few things of unusual nature that in Antony’s life is a legend told of him when he was prior of Savona. It makes a lovely ghost story, and it also provides food for thought.
According to the story, Antony was praying one night in the church. Disturbed by the sound of horses hooves clattering on the flagstones outside, he went to see who could possibly be there at such a late hour. There were several horsemen, all mounted on black horses. He addressed them, but received no answer. Thinking that they might be foreigners, he tried several languages, and still there was no response.
Aware, then, that something was wrong, he commanded them in the name of the Lord to tell him who they were and where they were going. They said that they were devils, and that they were on their way to meet the soul of a dying sinner, a usurer, and escort him to hell. “I will pray for him,” said Antony. The demons laughed and told him he was too late. “Then at least come back and tell me whether you succeed or not,” said the prior.
A short while later, the group returned, and they had succeeded. They held the unhappy usurer captive, and, while the prior watched in horror, they bore him off. The man was screaming. The next day, the usurer’s relatives came to arrange an elaborate funeral. “You would do much better to have Masses said for yourselves and other poor sinners,” he said.
Antony died at Como and was buried there in the Dominican church Miracles at his tomb led to his beatification.
Born: in San Germano, near Vercelli, the Piedmont, Italy, in 1395;
Died: Como, Italy, January 22, 1459;
Beatified: 1819 by Pope Pius VII