When you think about saints who championed the cause of the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation, what major players come to mind? Maybe you think of Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Francis de Sales, or Saint Philip Neri.
But one saint of this era who can’t be forgotten is Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria. During the Protestant Reformation, he called for reform for clergy, religious orders, and lay people.
Inspired by Saint Paul, he encouraged devotion in the lives of many Catholics. If today is the first time you’re hearing about Anthony, here are eight incredible facts about his life.
1. His life had holy beginnings
Anthony was born in Cremona, Italy in 1502. His parents were Lazzaro and Antonia Pescaroli Zaccaria.
After his birth, his parents took him to the Cathedral of Cremona, where he was baptized. More than likely, his uncle Don Tommaso Zaccaria, canon of the Cathedral, baptized young Anthony.
His father died soon after his birth. Although his mother was just eighteen years old, she decided not to remarry. Instead, she devoted her life to raising her son and taking care of the poor.
2. He was a physician called to heal souls and bodies
After studying philosophy at the University of Pavia, Anthony studied medicine at the University of Padua.
He graduated in 1524 and practiced as a doctor in his home town for three years. In 1527, he returned to his studies, but this time to discern the priesthood. He was ordained in 1529.
3. Anthony was incredibly devoted to the Eucharist
In Vincenza, Anthony introduced lay people to the forty-hour devotion. He encouraged people to join him in praying for forty hours before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Anthony would preach during the holy hours.
Another practice Anthony encouraged was remembrance of the Crucifixion. He would ring the church bells at 3pm every Friday to remind the lay people of Christ’s suffering.
4. His first Mass included a miracle
Anthony celebrated his first Mass on Christmas at the Oratory of the Monastery of St. Paul of the Angelic Sisters.
During the consecration, heavenly light surrounded the new priest. Angels also appeared beside him.
5. Anthony laid the foundations for three religious orders
Inspired by Saint Paul, Anthony helped start three religious orders. The first was the Clerics Regular of Saint Paul, better known as the Barnabites. The second was a group of religious sisters known as the Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul.
Finally, he started a lay congregation for lay married people called the Laity of Saint Paul. The group was originally known as the Married of Saint Paul, and it’s sometimes referred to as the Oblates of Saint Paul today.
6. He was a champion of the counter-reformation
Anthony was a major player in the counter-reformation. He taught as a catechist and reformed the lives of clergy, religious, and lay people.
“He is one of the great figures of Catholic reform in the 1500s,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote. “Anthony deserves to be recognized as an authentic man of God and the Church, a man burning with zeal, demanding forger of consciences, a true leader able to convert and lead others to good.”
7. He’s the patron saint of doctors
While he was traveling on mission, Anthony became ill. He returned to his mother’s house where he died, only ten years after becoming a priest.
Tradition holds that he saw visions of Saint Paul during his last moments on earth. Anthony is now the patron saints physicians.
8. His body is incorrupt
Twenty-seven years after his death, Anthony’s body was discovered to be incorrupt. You can visit his body at the Church of Saint Barnabas in Milan, Italy.
Grant, O Lord, that in the spirit of the Apostle Paul we may pursue the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, for, having learned it, Saint Anthony Zaccaria constantly preached your saving word in the Church. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.