Life

Early years
Fernando Martins was born in Lisbon, Portugal.[2] While fifteenth century
writers state that his parents were Vicente Martins and Teresa Pais Taveira,
and that his father was the brother of Pedro Martins de Bulhões, the
ancestor of the Bulhão or Bulhões family, Niccolò Dal-Gal views this as less
certain.[2] His wealthy and noble family arranged for him to be instructed at
the local cathedral school. At the age of fifteen, he entered the community
of Canons Regular at the Augustinian Abbey of Saint Vincent on the
outskirts of Lisbon.

In 1212, distracted by frequent visits from family and friends, he asked to
be transferred to the motherhouse of the congregation, the Abbey of Santa
Cruz in Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal. [3]There the young Fernando
studied theology and Latin.

Preaching and teaching
One day, in 1222, in the town of Forli, on the occasion of an ordination, a
number of visitingDominican friars were present, and there was some
misunderstanding over who should preach. The Franciscans naturally
expected that one of the Dominicans would occupy the pulpit, for they were
renowned for their preaching; the Dominicans, on the other hand, had
come unprepared, thinking that a Franciscan would be the homilist. In this
quandary, the head of the hermitage, who had no one among his own
humble friars suitable for the occasion, called upon Anthony, whom he
suspected was most qualified, and entreated him to speak whatever the
Holy Spirit should put into his mouth. [5] Anthony objected but was overruled,
and his sermon created a deep impression. Not only his rich voice and
arresting manner, but the entire theme and substance of his discourse and
his moving eloquence, held the attention of his hearers. Everyone was
impressed with his knowledge of Scripture, acquired during his years as an
Augustinian friar.
At that point, Anthony was sent by Brother Gratian, the local Minister
Provincial, to the Franciscan province of Romagna, based in Bologna.[5] He
soon came to the attention of the founder of the order, Francis of Assisi.
Francis had held a strong distrust of the place of theological studies in the
life of his brotherhood, fearing that it might lead to an abandonment of their
commitment to a life of real poverty. In Anthony, however, he found a kindred spirit for his
vision, who was also able to provide the teaching needed by young members of the order who might
seek ordination. In 1224 he entrusted the pursuit of studies for any of his friars to the care of
Anthony.

Miracle of the Fish
Once Anthony had travelled to the city of Rimini because it was a hotbed
of heresy. The city leaders had ordered everyone to ignore him, so no one
turned up for his homilies. Wherever Anthony went, he was greeted by
silence.

Anthony walked along praying and reflecting upon what had happened. As
he walked outside of the town, he came to the mouth of the Marecchia
River where it flows into the Adriatic. There he began to address the
crowds, not of people but of fish.

He called out, “You, fish of the river and sea, listen to the Word of God
because the heretics do not wish to hear it.” Suddenly there were
thousands of fish neatly arranged in rows, all pushing their heads through
the surface of the water as if they were straining to listen to every one of
Anthony’s words.

The people of Rimini, seeing this miracle, gathered to listen to Anthony.
What began with simple interest in an extraordinary event turned into a
passionate conviction that Anthony was speaking to their very hearts.
They were so moved by Anthony’s words, by his call to conversion, that
they abandoned their hardened positions and returned to the Church. As
we stated above, we are not sure that this story is historic, but it certainly
does represent a version of what often happened when Anthony
preached: that many hardened sinners were converted through the
unselfish love of Anthony.