Saint Patrick

Feast Day - March 17

Patron Saint of Ireland


St Patrick of Ireland is one of the world's most popular saints. 

Apostle of Ireland, born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387; died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, March 17, 461.

St PatrickPatrick was born around 385 in Scotland, probably Kilpatrick.  His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. 

As a boy of fourteen or so, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep.  Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans.  He learned the language and practices of the people who held him. 

During his captivity, he turned to God in prayer.  He wrote, "The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same ... I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn.  I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

Patrick's captivity lasted until he was 20, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast.  There he found some sailors who took him back to Britain, where he reunited with his family. 

He had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him "We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more."

He began his studies for the priesthood.  He was ordained by St.  Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years. 

Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland.  He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane.  One legend says that he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick.  Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly to Patrick. 

Patrick began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, converting many.  He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and began building churches all over the country.  Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing Patrick's message. 

Patrick preached and converted all of Ireland for 40 years.  He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in Confessions.  After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461. 

He died at Saul, where he had built the first church. 

The Power of Faith

Patrick's mission wasn't an easy one.  Druidism (an ancient Celtic religion) was widely practiced in Ireland, and many Druids would rather have killed Patrick than convert; he and his followers were imprisoned and sentenced to death many times.  But Patrick's faith in God was strong, and he knew he could keep going, "Spreading God's name everywhere with confidence and without fear."  Patrick preached all over Ireland.  It is believed he used a shamrock to explain the Trinity and converting thousands with his quiet, unassuming manner and gentle way of speaking.

As a man of God, Patrick was known for his humility and disinterest in material wealth.  He wouldn't accept gifts from admirers, and often retreated in quiet prayer.  By the time he died in 461, Patrick had converted virtually all of Ireland to Christianity, and he is a reminder that God speaks to us through His servants.

Patrick's Legacies

Patrick risked his life for thirty years or more and turned thousands to Christ.  But the man we know as Saint Patrick left a cultural legacy as well.

By the time of Patrick's death, many of the Irish had gone from being cattle-rustlers and slave traders to being peaceful farmers and scholars. Churches and monasteries, the fifth-century's centers of learning, dotted the landscape. The Irish were using an alphabetic written language, and many Irish youths had learned Latin and Greek.

Perhaps the most important contribution was the work of the Irish scribes. Manuscripts have a "shelf life." Even stored under the best of conditions, they should be copied every so often, lest the next generation find that thousands of years of history have crumbled with the last remaining manuscript. On the continent, political instability was slowing down the work of copyists.

The Irish monks were reasonably safe, and under no compunction to sort out which books were worth copying. They traveled far and wide, found books wherever they could, and copied almost anything they could get their hands on. Their permanent settlements also spread, to Scotland and then to the continent, especially to modern-day France.

The Irish predisposition for copying anything they could get their hands on helped keep many ancient writings available for later scholars. Nobody can claim that any specific Irish monk single-handedly "saved" any specific classical or ancient work. But the sheer size and breadth of the Irish contribution (alongside that of the Benedictines and other groups) helped pave the way for the next generation of scholars, and eventually for the Renaissance.

What to Celebrate

You can see that Patrick's life and example gives us much to commemorate:

v Faith in God

v Charity toward those who have not been charitable to you

v Commitment to the welfare of others

v Abolition of slavery

v Elimination of needless warfare

v Promotion of learning, including spiritual and academic growth

v Pride in one's own cultural heritage, and refusal to disparage others because of their cultural heritage

How to Celebrate

v Read a book or a book of poems that reminds you of your own cultural heritage.

v Pray for and find a way to show support for someone who is doing good work in a foreign culture.

v Read Saint Patrick's "Confession."

v Study Saint Patrick's favorite books: the writings of Saint Paul.

Shamrock and Snakes

Nobody knows for sure whether Patrick used a three-lobed shamrock to explain the trinity but it has been associated with him and the Irish since that time.  We do know that he was fiercely Trinitarian in his beliefs.

Historians also don't think he really drove the snakes from Ireland.  However, if you see a statue or painting of a man with a shamrock in his hand and a snake under one foot, you should have a good idea of who they're trying to represent.

In St. Patrick's Footsteps

As a servant of God, Patrick was called to return to a country whose people had enslaved him, a place where people were resistant to his message.  He was probably feeling less than enthusiastic, but he knew that it was God's will that he go there.

One way or another, we all face the same change that Patrick did; we may be asked to do things that don't make sense to us at the time, or be asked to forgive people who have wronged us, or we find ourselves in situations that are not what we had planned.  But each of us can find the courage to do God's will if we trust in Him and believe in His love for us.


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St. Patrick's Church at Moody Air Force Base