Who Was St. Patrick?
Patrick wasn’t Irish, yet America’s biggest Irish celebration is held in his name; he wasn’t the first bishop sent to Ireland, yet he is responsible for launching the evangelical push that converted the pagan Irish to Christianity. He never drove the snakes out of Ireland – there weren’t any, at least not in the literal sense.
St. Patrick is one of three patron saints of Ireland (the other two are Brigid and Columba). He was born in the late 4th century, most sources say 387, somewhere on the coast of Britain, perhaps in Wales or Scotland. As early as 431, Pope Celestine sent a bishop named Palladius to minister to the Christians in Ireland. Patrick came to Ireland when he was sixteen, but he came against his will, as a slave.
Fortunately, we have his own words left to us in the form of his autobiography, referred to as his Confessio, and his Epistola, an admonition of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.
Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders who were searching for slave labor, a common practice in those days. He worked for six years as a shepherd, and in those lonely times, as he later explained in his Confessio, he began to pray in earnest and trust God. He escaped and made his way back to his homeland.
Later he became a bishop and had a dream or a vision in which he heard the voice of the Irish calling to him to come and walk again among them. He did return, and apparently had several run-ins with pagan kings. Patrick stood up for his beliefs and was instrumental in guiding the Irish people to Christ. His predecessor, who was probably already in the country when Patrick returned, had been sent to minister to people who already believed; Patrick ministered to the unbelievers.
Did Patrick convert all of Ireland? That would have been a near impossible task in one man’s lifetime, especially since it was done without warfare, unlike Europe during the Crusades. Others came after him and carried on his work in Ireland and beyond: Brigid, Columba, Brendan, Aidan, and Columban to name a few. But St. Patrick is the name today that identifies all things Irish. The holiday is no longer just a religious observance; it is a day of cultural pride for all those with Irish blood.
“Follow me where I go, what I do and who I know;