Anthony was born in Spain's northeast region of Catalonia in 1807 to a working class family. His father was a weaver and employed several people in the first floor factory of their small two story house. When Anthony was born on December 23, 1807, and throughout his earliest years, his hometown of Sallent was in the path of the invading French Armies of Napoleon. With the armies came revolutionary ideas that would trouble Spain throughout Anthony's life. His character was built on lasting childhood experiences and impressions: shared family life and prayer, manual work, competition, creativity and practicality, and sensitivity to the needs of others.
Anthony's parents were prosperous but not wealthy. His father owned some small textile factories where Anthony would work once he was old enough. After the French occupation, hard times hit Spain. Many people were forced to leave farms and small towns for the larger cities. Anthony, the second son, was not to inherit any of the family businesses, so his father sent him to Barcelona as a student and to work in the large textile mills. Anthony, who did very well in the textile design school and on the factory floor, seemed destined to be a successful businessman in the new textile industry, and so as a young man of 18 he left home and set off for Barcelona. His dream and passion was to become a great industrialist and he dedicated himself with great passion and creativity. In order to not restrict his studies to theory only, he went to work as a special designer and technician in a large manufacturing plant in the city. There he was offered the position of technical director of a large textile plant. This encouraged him to further improve himself, and his job became an obsession for him. Night and day, he visualized canvasses, models, and new processes.
Tensions were created as men and women moved from the countryside, where there was greater respect of religion and traditional morality, into the city, where ideas of political liberty meant release from traditional values. The clash deeply disturbed Anthony. He felt the tension in his own personal choices and was distressed to see the neglect of religion and morality in his friends in school and in the factory. His imagination was assailed by a multitude of projects, designs, and the latest trends in the textile industry. And yet, in the midst of this, he saw something was missing in his life, that this way of life wasn't giving him much satisfaction.
The spirituality engendered by his parents and parish community began to mature in his own vocational discernment process. It was a seed long planted, encouraged by family and friends, but often forgotten. The practice of virtue, prayer, and sacraments continued in this free environment. Anthony studied, lived alone, worked, had varied friendships, and was exposed to those things society lacked.
Anthony came to terms with a desire to consecrate his life in service to God and was filled with hope and consolation. He shared this with his father, who at first was disappointed by the decision. His father saw Anthony as the grown man he was at 24 years old, and encouraged him in his reflections even though his personal preference would have been for him to continue in the family business.
Initially Anthony felt his calling was to monastic life. A wise priest urged him to begin his seminary studies and after a year to decide whether his call was indeed monastic. In that first year he was introduced to daily reading of the scriptures and this nurtured his vocation to become an apostolic missionary. At the age of 28 he completed his studies and was ordained a priest for the diocese of Vic. He began parish ministry in his own hometown of Sallent. A prophetic vocation sprang from the scriptures, his life nourished and transformed by the Eucharist, and his identity as a missionary was discovered in the life of the Mother of Jesus.
Active in the ministry of the spoken and written word, he was constantly devoted to prayer and his on-going formation. Claret was enthusiastic about everything he believed in and, having to put his ideas into action, rebelled against the restrictions the government put on his preaching and ministry. He left for Rome where he offered himself to the pope as a missionary. While in Rome he tested his call to the Jesuits, but ill health convinced the superiors he was not called to become one of them. He returned to Spain immediately where, ironically, he took on an extremely busy schedule as a missionary.
Claret's years as a wandering preacher-he was given the title of “apostolic missionary” by the pope-were very happy and extremely successful. He had the ability to talk to all people: children, youths, educated professionals, couples planning marriage, and seniors preparing for death. His messages were always very clear and meaningful in helping people in their trials.
He is heroic among us as a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, and chaplain to royalty, forerunner of Catholic Action and role of laity in the church, writer, publisher, archbishop, and survivor of numerous attempted assassinations.
Anthony became one of the most popular preachers in the country. His missions and retreats emphasized devotion to the Eucharist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He also published hundreds of books and pamphlets on the faith.
At the age of 42, Anthony founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Claretians); he later co-founded the Claretian Sisters. Appointed archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, in 1850, Anthony entered a world where immorality was rampant among clergy and there existed great antagonism toward the church. He provided hope and preaching while hearing confessions, instructing slaves, and promoting family-owned farms and credit unions. The reforms he advocated brought enemies, and a hired assassin slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony worked to get his would-be assassin's death sentence commuted to a prison term.
After seven years he was called back to Spain and was named Confessor to Queen Isabella. He felt restricted in his new role but worked in a variety of areas. He founded a science laboratory, a museum of natural history, music and language schools, and an association of writers and artists.
He was exiled from Spain and fled to France during the revolution of 1868 and died there two years later on October 24, 1870 at 62 years of age.
He was declared a Saint on May 7, 1950. The men who have followed in his way, the Claretians, now number over 3,000 strong and minister in over 60 countries worldwide.