Generations of Catholics know St. Anthony as the patron saint of finding lost things. There are formal prayers to beseech St. Anthony’s help, and informal prayers: “Tony, Tony, look around …” But for Juanita Mendez, St. Anthony helped her find more than a lost set of keys or pair of glasses. St. Antony helped her find faith, and home, and security. “I moved to Chicago from Mexico 26 years ago,” said Mendez, who now lives in Lansing but remains a parishioner and coordinator of religious education at St. Anthony Parish, 11533 S. Prairie Ave. “It was really hard for me. I was scared, scared all the time.” The home her family moved into was near St. Anthony Church, so she took to going to the church, for Mass, for confession, just to pray. “I became really close to the church,” she said. “I am so blessed to have St. Anthony in my life.” This year, Mendez was one of the parishioners who hosted a novena Mass in preparation for the celebrations of the feast of St. Anthony. Each year, nine parishioners take it in turn to host a 5- foot statue of the saint at their homes. Following an evening Mass, generally in the host families’ yards, the statue is carried in a procession to the next family’s house. This is the third year the parish has done the home-based novena Masses, said Father Mark Krylowicz, the pastor, so 27 families have hosted the statue. For the feast day, which the parish always celebrated the second Sunday in June, the statue is carried to the church, and only one Mass is celebrated that day. During the Mass, the parish distributes small loaves of bread donated by the Gonella company, which at one time had a bakery in the neighborhood. Parishioners give offerings to charity in return for the bread. The blessing and distribution of bread and giving alms to the poor are traditions associated with the feast. Following the Mass, parishioners gather on the grounds for a festival with Italian, Mexican and American food and music, as well games and other family entertainment. Krylowicz said that years ago, the parish had a big carnival around the feast of St. Anthony, but that had long since ended when he came to the parish eight years ago. He suggested that the parish do something to come together and celebrate its patron, and the festival got its start. Now it’s a parish fixture, with a committee that meets year-round, evaluating what went well each year and making adjustments to the plan as needed. “It’s become kind of a neat thing for us,” Krylowicz said. St. Anthony has long been one of the most popular saints on the Catholic calendar. He originally joined the Franciscans in the early 13th century with stated desire to be sent as a missionary to Africa and martyred, but he was thwarted by illness when he went to Africa, and was sent back to an Italian monastery. He worked there in obscurity until his marvelous skill in preaching came to light, and he preached and taught Franciscan seminarians for nine more years, until his death in 1231. Last year, relics of St. Anthony visited the Chicago area as part of a tour commemorating the 750th anniversary of the discovery of St. Anthony’s relics in Padua, Italy. At the time, most of the saint’s body was found to be corrupted, but his tongue was perfectly preserved. Franciscan Father Mario Conte, who traveled with the relics, said that he meets Catholics all over the world who consider St. Anthony “a friend.” Saints are people who now are with God in heaven, and we ask them to intercede for us, Conte said. He said he imagines St. Anthony next to God, tugging at God’s sleeve, saying, “Please, help my friend here.” Resurrectionist Father Anthony Bus, whose parish, St. Stanislaus Kostka, hosted the relics for an evening, said he considers St. Anthony his patron and visited the shrine of St. Anthony while on a retreat in Padua during a sabbatical. He was moved, he said, by the endless stream of pilgrims approaching the relics of the saint with reverence and faith, and he found himself joining them in praying for their intentions. The message of St. Anthony is love, Conte said. There are images of St. Anthony in nearly every Catholic church, whether statues or paintings or stained glass windows. In most of them, he holds the Bible, because he was a renowned Scripture scholar and the first teacher of theology to the Franciscans, and the infant Jesus, whom he is said to have encountered in a vision and held in his arms before he died. But in all of them, he looks at the people looking at him with an expression of tenderness and love, Conte said. “He wanted to share this love of God with everyone,” Conte said.