How St. Anthony Found My Mother’s Wedding Dress for Her

June 17, 2016 | Published first in Aleteia

My mother has deep and familiar friendships with many saints — St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Joseph, St. Pio (whom she stubbornly still refers to as “Padre Pio” despite his canonization). But no other saint commands her love and respect like St. Anthony of Padua, and not just because he’s helped her locate numerous lost articles. She relies on him for many things that she is completely confident he will obtain for her.

In the summer of 1961, my mother was newly arrived in Chicago, where she’d moved from Scotland to marry my father, who had emigrated the year before to find work.  She lived in a dormitory home run by the Episcopal Church for young women who were new to the city and starting out in the workforce or going to school. “It may have been run by the Episcopalians, but it was so strict, with curfews and parietals and the like, that only Catholic girls would live there,” she explained.

She worked as a secretary at the Morton Salt Company and scrimped and saved for her wedding, discovering that $100 — although a somewhat tidy sum — wasn’t quite enough to buy something fashionable. Not a thing could she afford.

But she needed a dress for her wedding, and the day was drawing close. On her lunch hour one afternoon, she walked over to Marshall Field’s, Chicago’s beloved and, in those days, most prestigious department store.  In the bridal department, she spent a few minutes looking at the gowns while the clerk assisted another young woman and her attendants.

When the clerk was free, she greeted my mother, but glanced around her.  “Are you here by yourself?” she asked kindly. “Yes,” mother replied, suddenly realizing it wasn’t the norm for women to shop for wedding dresses alone.

“Would you like to try something on?”

“Well, I have a little problem,” mother replied. “I’d like a $200 dress, but I only have $100.”

“We don’t carry anything in the price range,” the clerk responded, shaking her head.  “I’m sorry.”

Undeterred, mother walked two blocks west to St. Peter’s Church. The Franciscans Friars serve the parish and the church contains a relic of St. Anthony at a small side altar, and a “St. Anthony’s Bread” box.

“St. Anthony’s Bread” is a reference to alms donated for the poor. It is said that St. Anthony loves the poor so much that if one makes an offering to help them, he will do almost anything in return for you. However, as my mother points out, “He works fastest if you pay him up front.” So she took $20 of the money she had with her, placed it in the poor box, and asked St. Anthony to help her find a wedding dress she could afford.

The next day, she went back to Marshall Field’s.

When she walked in to the bridal salon again, the same clerk greeted her, this time with a large smile. “You’ll never believe it! I have just the thing for you.” She went to the back of the store and emerged minutes later carrying a silk Priscilla of Boston wedding gown, fitted at the waist with elbow-length sleeves. Grace Kelly’s bridesmaids had worn Priscilla of Boston gowns, and the designer style was very much in demand.

“This had been special ordered, but the wedding has been called off,” the clerk explained. “It cost more than $200, but my manager said I can give it to you for $100 if you can take it ‘as is’.”

My mother loved the dress immediately — it was precisely what she had envisioned — and she had just enough money to pay for it.  After only a few alterations, it fit her perfectly.

Following her wedding, she donated the dress to the cloistered Carmelite nuns, who made it into vestments and altar cloths, giving back to the Church the dress that St. Anthony had found for her.

Mary Hallan FioRito is the Cardinal Francis George Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.