Anthony Maria Claret i Clarà was born in Sallent, in the county of Bages in the Province of Barcelona, on December 23, 1807, the fifth of the eleven children of Juan and Josefa Claret. His father was a woollen manufacturer. As a child he enjoyed pilgrimages to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Fussimanya.
Claret received an elementary education in his native village, and at the age of twelve became a weaver. At the age of eighteen, he went to Barcelona to specialize in his trade as a Jacquard loom programmer, and remained there until he was 20 years old.
In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, Anthony learned Latin, French and printing: The future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers.
Anthony spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was said that his rosary was never out of his hand. At age 42, he founded a religious institute of missionaries beginning with five young priests, known today as the Claretians.
Anthony was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for opposing concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin—whose release from prison Anthony had obtained—slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: Reflections on Agriculture and Country Delights.
He was recalled to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. Anthony went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace; he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children; and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled to Paris with the queen’s party, where he preached to the Spanish colony.
The Saint was an exceptional preacher with incredible charisms: witnesses said his body would become transfigured while preaching or in prayer, he would levitate up to six feet off the ground at times in front of credible witnesses, he stopped a series of earthquakes in Cuba by kneeling on the ground and placing his palms to the earth while uttering prayers, he could calm terrible storms by raising a hand to the sky and blessing the storm clouds, he experienced apparitions of both Jesus and Mary, and was even seen walking on water. In addition, a supernatural light that radiated from his body while he was saying Mass was seen by many. It was so intense at times that one witness said he saw the light radiate from his body behind the altar all the way to the sacristy. Queen Isabella of Spain even produced a written statement solemnly declaring that she had personally witnessed this phenomenon.
On Sept. 3rd, 1859, Anthony claimed he had heard Jesus tell him that there were three great evils that were descending upon mankind: the first was a series of enormous, horrifying wars; the second, the four powerful demons of pleasure, love of money, false reasoning and a will separated from God. Finally, in addition to a grievance he had with certain Christians who had left the Church, Jesus told the saint that the third chastisement would be brought about by Communism, an unknown, fledgling movement that only had hundreds of followers at the time.
Two years after the Sept. 3rd warning, during benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in August of 1861, Anthony again said he was warned interiorly by Jesus that Communism was to be the great foe of humanity. The remedy, Jesus told him, would include devotion to the Blessed Sacrament (also known as the Eucharist) and the Rosary.
One of the most interesting prophecies given by the saint came in the 1850s when the Saint traveled by horseback to preach in the mountainous region of Cuba known as the Sierra Maestra. Here, he said, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him that in the future a bearded man wearing a uniform and bearing weapons would arise in Cuba from those mountains. He would at first be called a hero because of the reforms he would promise the people. But ultimately, he would rule the island for four decades with an iron fist, causing great hardship for many. One hundred years later the prophecy came true. In the 1950s Fidel Castro and 19 companions established their guerilla base in the same region that St. Anthony saw the Virgin Mary while riding his horse. When he came to power after overthrowing the government, he was at first hailed as a hero. But he would ultimately take away the freedoms from the people and rule the island as the only Communist dictator in the western hemisphere for 4 decades before secumbing to poor health.
In 1869 he went to Rome to prepare for the First Vatican Council. Owing to failing health he withdrew to Prada de Conflent in the French Pyrenees, where he was still harassed by his Spanish enemies; shortly afterwards he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide, Narbonne, southern France, where he died on October 24, 1870, aged 62.
All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets.
At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, Anthony won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, “There goes a true saint.”