On March 17, Catholics celebrate St. Patrick, the fifth century bishop and patron of Ireland, whose life of holiness set the example for many of the Church’s future saints.
St. Patrick is said to have been born around 389 AD in Britain. Captured by Irish raiders when he was about 16, St. Patrick was taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for six years as a shepherd before escaping and returning to his home.
At home, he studied the Christian faith at monastic settlements in Italy and and what is now modern-day France. He was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Auxerre, France, around the year 418 AD and ordained a bishop in 432 AD.
It was around this time when that he was assigned to minister to the small, Christian communities in Ireland who lacked a central authority and were isolated from one another.
When St. Patrick returned to Ireland, he was able to use his knowledge of Irish culture that he gained during his years of captivity. Using the traditions and symbols of the Celtic people, he explained Christianity in a way that made sense to the Irish and was thus very successful in converting the natives.
The shamrock, which St. Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity, is a symbol that has become synonymous with Irish Catholic culture.
Although St. Patrick’s Day is widely known and celebrated every March the world over, various folklore and legend that surround the saint can make it difficult to determine fact from fiction.
He is often mistakenly recognized as the man who drove away snakes during his ministry despite the climate and location of Ireland, which have never allowed snakes to inhabit the area.
St. Patrick is most revered not for what he drove away from Ireland, but for what he brought and the foundation he built for the generations of Christians who followed him.
Although not the first missionary to the country, he is widely regarded as the most successful. His life of sacrifice, prayer and fasting laid the foundation for the many saints that the small island was home to following his missionary work.
To this day, he continues to be revered as one of the most beloved saints of Ireland.
In March of 2011, the Irish bishops’ conference marked their patron’s feast by remembering him as “pioneer in an inhospitable climate.”
As the Church in Ireland faces her own recent difficulties following clerical sex abuse scandals, comfort can be found in the plight of St. Patrick, the bishops said.
They quoted ‘The Confession of St. Patrick’, which reads: “May it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing.”
Here are some interesting facts about St. Patrick:
- St. Patrick most likely never drove any (real) snakes out of Ireland, because the country never had them in the first place. There is no fossil evidence of the animals in the country, and the cold waters surrounding the island make it too uninhabitable for the reptiles to have migrated there in the first place. The legend likely stems from the snakes in icons of St. Patrick, which symbolized the evil and pagan ways he drove out of the country.
- Americans invented many of the St. Patrick’s day traditions as they now stand. Irish soldiers fighting the British in the Revolutionary war held the first St. Patrick’s day parades in an effort to stay connected to their Irish roots. The tradition continued, and soon wearing green became the fashionable way to show solidarity with Irish roots on the feast day. In 1962, Chicago dyed the river green for the first time. The feast day didn’t become a big celebration in Ireland until the 1970s.
- Not only is St. Patrick the patron of Ireland, he is also the patron saint of engineers and Nigeria. St. Patrick is credited with the construction of the first clay churches in Ireland, and for teaching the people to use lime mortar rather than dry masonry, thus he has been named the patron of engineers. He is also the patron Saint of Nigeria, which was evangelized primarily by Irish missionaries and priests from Saint Patrick’s Missionary Society known as the Kiltegan Missionaries.
By Catholic News Agency