His vocation was initially opposed by his parents who dreamt of him continuing the illustrious family name. But soon Antonio would be left free to follow his own path. From now on he had a clear aim that he wished to attain: to use his own culture to enlighten his brothers and sisters, and his possessions to bring relief to the poor. “These are the sentiments” — he said— “which teach not just the intellect but the heart.”
In 1816 he enrolled in the University of Padua in order to study theology: in reality his interests extended to all disciplines, in accordance with his encyclopaedic intelligence, but above all to know people’s problems, the future object of his apostolate.The university environment extended enormously the network of his friendships among professors and students. One of the many was Niccolò Tommaseo, whom he loved as a brother and to whom he did not skimp in hospitality and financial help.
Naturally inclined to be active, Antonio conceived vast and generous projects for the good of his neighbour which, however, failed one after another. Among these was the Enciclopedia cristiana [Christian Encyclopaedia] to counter the French one and the Società degli amici [The Society of Friends] for the Christian enlivening of society.
His priestly ordination came on 21 April 1821; he was convinced that he possessed in it “the most precious treasure”. The meaning which he gave to his priesthood is contained in his words: “The priest must be a new man: living in heaven with heart and mind, conversing always with Christ; returning from the altar a saint, an apostle, a man full of God. He must progress in all virtues, be the first to love hard work, humiliation, suffering…., a model of perfect obedience, he must live charity towards his neighbour as a flame which sets fire to everyone.”