Mom's Legendary Relationship With Saint Anthony
By John R. Vollaro                     June 2006

    As a young boy much of my faith formation came from the people of faith that surrounded me. I come from an Italian family with a long standing tradition in the Catholic faith. My mother's faith was especially strong and she conveyed it to me without really trying.

    There is nothing like a miracle to get your attention and make you a believer. My mother became the inadvertent host for a number of small miracles through the intercession of Saint Anthony. Some of them were quite startling to me when they occurred and the memory of them is still very vivid. If they stood alone, they might be relegated to coincidence or isolated anomalies. They were however part of a consistent and ongoing pattern that gave them credibility and made the whole process believable to me.

    The process went something like this. Something was lost. Some memorable examples are a wedding ring, numerous wallets and purses, keys ... The looser, after exhausting every effort to find what was lost would convey their tale of woe to mom knowing that she had a special relationship with Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost items. Mom would respond simply and with real concern and compassion, "I'll say a prayer to Saint Anthony". What most people didn't know was that part of her prayer was an unconditional promise of a donation in his name. The rest of the process was an unpredictable chain of natural events that invariably lead to the discovery of the lost item. Several of these occasions are especially vivid in my memory and I will relate them as clearly as I can.

    When I was 9 or 10 years old, I came into possession of a bow and arrow. My father who was an archer, gave me one of his arrows (with the tip removed), and it was a prized possession. I enjoyed shooting it in a high arc and watching it come down and stick in the ground. On one occasion, the wind caught the arrow causing it to come down in the high branches of a tall tree. It was stuck high enough so I could see it but completely out of reach. I tried to throw a ball at it to dislodge it but to no avail. I never thought to ask mom about it but she saw how upset I was and came over to me. By then I was frustrated and in tears. After consoling me as only a mother can, she said in passing "We'll say a prayer to Saint Anthony and see if he can help." I never even thought of that because in my mind it was not really lost. Anyway, we said our prayer and it made me feel better to know that the problem was out of my hands. I moved on to other things but every time I walked by the tree, I glanced up to see the arrow still stuck in the same place. Finally the day ended and I went to bed.

    After a sound sleep, I woke up refreshed and ready to go. We were at Schroon Lake and their were a million exciting adventures waiting to be explored. I threw on my clothes and headed out the door to the big cabin where I could get some breakfast. I bounded down the short flight of steps and stopped dead in my tracks. There before me, stuck in the ground and standing as straight as only an arrow can, was my arrow. The image of the red arrow with its black feathers and bright painted stripes slowly etched in my memory as I stared at it, and is as clear today as it was then. I took two steps closer and the arrow was at my feet. I looked up and saw the place in the tree where it was lodged. All of the possibilities went through my mind. There must have been a breeze that shook it loose but the significance of the prayer to Saint Anthony was not lost on me. The whole episode became one more example of my mothers grace and the power of her faith. The credit went to her I guess because she would not be as surprised as I was. She would know for sure what caused the breeze that brought the arrow back to me while I wasn't quite sure.

    Another time when I was perhaps a year older, my pet turtle Gulliver decided to run away from home. Gulliver was a tortoise about the size of a half cantelope that I bought in the local pet store in Brooklyn. We had become friends and he stayed in a pen in the back yard as long as the weather permitted. He would occasionally get out of his pen and I would find him some where in the yard munching on a beetle or an earth worm. One day I went looking for him but he was nowhere to be found. I looked and looked and once again ended up in my mothers arms in tears. She consoled me and wiped my tears away and of course we said a prayer to Saint Anthony. I posted a sign on the phone pole outside our house promising a reward for the safe return of Gulliver. It was perhaps a week later that a stranger rang our door bell and handed over a cardboard box with Gulliver happily scratching at the sides. The man didn't even want the reward that I had saved and carefully put aside for this occasion.

    Did mom's prayer to Saint Anthony ever go unanswered? No one could ever remember that happening. Instead they remember the dozens of times that her simple prayer worked its magic. I'm sure if you ask mom about this she will have an answer that is framed in her faith in God. She would say that God and Saint Anthony know what's best, and that may sometimes be to let the lost remain lost.

    The story that takes the cake for me is one I will never forget. It happened while we were at Schroon Lake. A man was fishing in the middle of the lake in front of the our property. He stood up in the boat and lost his balance. As he tried to recover, the small boat capsized. Someone came to his rescue and the story was that he had a wallet with $100 in it that was lost when the boat went over. One hundred dollars was enough in the 1950's to make you raise your eyebrows and whistle. The man came back with his boat and could be seen cruising back and forth while looking over the side for his wallet. I remember mom watching him and feeling sorry for him. She said "That poor man. I'm going to say a prayer for him." After several days, the man gave up his search and the episode began to fade from our memories.

    We would occasionally take our small motor boat to the public beach just south of the narrows for a picnic. On one such occasion we all piled into the boat and were heading for the beach. We were in the middle of the lake and about to round the point when mom started yelling "Stop the boat, I saw it!". My father stopped the motor and mom was very excited. She said she glanced over the side and saw a wallet on the bottom of the lake. My father with an incredulous look on his face, turned the boat around and slowly retraced our path. Sure enough, there it was, an open wallet laying on the bottom looking up at us. There is a sand bar at this point in the lake so that although far from shore, it was only 4 feet deep. My father got out of the boat and easily retrieved the wallet. When the man came to pick up his wallet, he gave mom $10. It was enough to take the whole family out to dinner and that's what she did with the reward.

    You may not believe in Saint Anthony or in miracles but this is a hard one to dismiss as a happy coincidence. What are the chances that we would pass by that wallet when the light was right and the boat was positioned so that mom's casual glance over the side while the boat was in full motion, would reveal a wallet on the bottom of the lake in four feet of water? She wasn't even looking for it. Like most miracles, you can view them any way you like. After all I've seen, I choose to believe in the legend of Mary Vollaro and her special friend, Saint Anthony.

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