“Humility, obedience, meekness, and love are the virtues that shine through the Cross and the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. O my Jesus, help me imitate you!”
Born on December 23rd, 1807, Anthiny Maria Claret i Clara was the fifth of a total of eleven children. He was born in the town of Sallent, in the province of Barcelona. As an infant he was christened Antonio Juan Adjutorio Claret y Clara and was known by the name of Tonin. As a child he was noticed for his charity and began struggling with thoughts about eternity even at the age of five. He was known at night to whisper "Siempre, Siempre, Siempre" - Forever, and ever and ever - the thoughts of the horrible sufferings of sinners. He write of his early years of spiritual learning:
“Just as the buds of roses open in due time, and, if there are no buds, there can be no roses, so it is with the truths of religion. If one has no instruction in catechism, one has complete ignorance in matters of religion, even if one happens to be of those who pass for wise. Oh, how well my instruction in catechism has served me!”
He originally wished to learn Latin from the local priest for preparation to the seminary, but when the Priest died few options remained in the harsh economic climate. At twelve, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a weaver.. He moved to Barcelona at the age of eighteen to continue weaving but by the age of twenty began experiencing doubts of his profession and a longing for Priesthood. The time spent learning his advanced profession began drawing him away from a spiritual life and he would later write:
“I received the sacraments frequently during the year. I attended Mass on all feasts and holy days of obligation, daily prayed the Rosary to Mary, and kept up my other devotions, but with none of my former fervor. I can’t overstate it my obsession approached delirium.”
During the hot summer of 1826, he began to feel delirious and over worked. While wading in the seat one afternoon, a wave crashed over him and carried him out to sea. Knowing he couldn't swim, he cried out to the Virgin Mary for help and was miraculously carried back to the shore. He began feeling that he had fully abandoned his gift of calling to Ministry and in doing so showed gross ingratitude to God.
He entered the Seminary at Vic in 1829 and was ordained on June 13th, 1835 on the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. Feeling a strong pull to missionary work he travelled to Rome and attempted to join the Jesuit order but was ultimately unsuccessful in joining due to several bouts of poor health. He returned to a parish in Catalonia and began preaching extremely popular sermons all over Spain. His fluency in the Catalan language drew massive crowds. Some days he preached seven sermons and would frequently spend hours in confessions. He credited his message to Mary and love :
Love is the most necessary of all virtues. Love in the person who preaches the word of God is like fire in a musket. If a person were to throw a bullet with his hands, he would hardly make a dent in anything; but if the person takes the same bullet and ignites some gunpowder behind it, it can kill. It is much the same with the word of God. If it is spoken by someone who is filled with the fire of charity —the fire of love of God and neighbor— it will work wonders.
Due to anti-Catholic enemies in Spain he was sent to the Canary Islands for 15 months. Upon his return to Spain he decided God had called him to the mission of organizing a religious orders dedicated to the work of missions. He was successful in this feat and the new organization was established on July 16th, 1849 (The feast of Our Lady of Mount Caramel) and named it the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of Immaculate Heart of Mary (also known as the Claretians).
Only days later, Pope Pius IX, at the request of Queen-regnant Isabella II of Spain, named him the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. The so called New World was in dire need of workers of God and Saint Anthony answered the call. After several months of travel, he reached Cuba and dedicated the land to Mary. He reorganized the Santiago seminary, validated 9,000 marriages in two years, erected a hospital, numerous schools and took special care to erect vocational schools for poor and disadvantaged children and credit unions for the poor. His work for the poor attracted enemies and a would-be assassin stabbed him at Holguin to try and prevent his work from continuing.
His holiness was well known and several miracles or miraculous events are attributed to him. It is said he often levitated six feet off of the ground in front of witnesses, stopped earthquakes by kneeling on the ground and praying, stopped hurricanes by blessing the clouds as they approached and even experienced apparitions of Jesus and Mary. Queen Isabella II of Spain personally produced a written and signed statement that she witnessed light radiate from his body behind the altar.
On September 3rd, 1859, Saint Anthony had a private revelation from Jesus that was three great evils coming onto mankind soon - a series of wars, the four demons of pleasure, love of money false reasoning and wills separated from God, and finally a third chastisement would be brought down to Earth through Communism (At the time, the Communist movement had only several hundred followers).
Saint Anthony was called to Spain by Queen Isabella II and asked to be her confessor. In addition to this role, he totally committed himself to the causes of the poor and helping educate all who wanted to learn. When the revolution occurred in 1868, he left with the Queen to France and continued preaching his popular sermons in Paris. Pope Pius IX invited him back to Rome and helped prepare for the First Vatican Council in 1869. Poor health forced his retirement, and he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide in southern France.
It was here at the Abbey where he died, on October 24th, 1870 at the age of 62. He was buried at the city of Vic in Catalonia.
In 1897, his remains were transferred to the mission house at Vic and his heart found to be incorrupt. Pope Leo XIII declared him venerable two years later and he was beatified by Pope Pius on February 24th 1934. Just sixteen later, on May 7th, 1950, Pope Pius XII presided over his formal canonization.
In the early 21st century, the Claretians had over 450 houses, 3100 members and missions on five different continents.