St. Valentine isn’t the only Catholic saint associated with romance.
St. Anthony of Padua, known as the patron saint of lost articles, is credited with recovering lost people, items and stolen goods. In some cultures, the faithful petition him when in search of love. Born Fernando Martins in Portugal, he became a highly regarded Franciscan friar and powerful preacher in Italy before he died at age 35 in 1231. He was canonized less than a year later.
“He has been honored as the miracle worker who can assist those who invoke his name in finding true love,” said Julie Orlet, of Belleville, a businesswoman who has four grown children. “In legends and rituals dating back centuries, seekers have petitioned his assistance in their quest to find their soul mates.”
Julie used to work at The Vineyard, a west Belleville shop that featured religious items. She learned of the love connection when a friend called asking for help finding a St. Anthony statue.
Curious about centuries-old traditions associated with the saint, Julie visited Morelia, Mexico, and discovered four different rituals.
“I had heard there was a shrine of sorts located within the walls of a restaurant called San Miguelito, on the outskirts of town,” she said.
Every year, but especially around Valentine’s Day, hundreds of pilgrims flock to the restaurant. More than 750 St. Anthony statues are on display along with a book of prayers and petitions asking the saint for assistance and letters sharing success stories.
“It’s a beautiful tradition,” Julie said. “Love is always in the air. On the way there, I talked to my taxi driver about it. He said, ‘That’s how my wife found me!’”
Julie decided to bring some hope back to the United States.
“I wanted to introduce this beautiful legend to my own culture,” she said.
She commissioned Dave Woesthaus, visual arts teacher at Althoff Catholic High School, to design a statue with St. Anthony holding a heart.
Julie is producing the statue through the Roman Inc. company in Bloomingdale, which sells another version of the St. Anthony statue that’s available at National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows gift shop.
Julie has customized a limited supply of statues, with help from Belleville artist Natalie Kelsey. Tucked inside each box is a prayer with the phrase, “In a world searching for meaning, love and peace, thank you for being our gentle guide.”
Natalie will host a statue-painting workshop on March 10 at her business, Blissful Living Studio, at 1901 W. Main St. in Belleville.
The statues, which cost $24.95, are available at Eckert’s Florist and the Abby in Belleville and online at www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com. For more information, contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"On our Facebook page, we encourage people to share their stories, because I know they’re out there,” she said.
Former Belleville resident Pam Kleckner is a believer in St. Anthony’s help. Now living near Lake of Egypt with her husband, Dave, she purchased a statue at the Shrine Gift Shop.
Pam placed the names of three single friends underneath the statue about six months ago, and “they’re all dating,” she said. “I think it’s working.”
One ritual involving St. Anthony is saying a prayer to the saint every Tuesday while burning orange candles in front of his statue.
Many people place his statue in a place of honor and pray daily for the saint’s intercession. Some place it on it head, turning it upright when they find love. St. Anthony’s Feast Day is June 13.
According to legend, someone looking for a life partner should put 13 identical coins around the base of St. Anthony while praying and walking around the statue 13 times.
“Everybody deserves love,” Julie said. “I had no idea how big this was. The world is hungry for love. People like rituals and symbols.”