Born 387-390. Died March 17, 461-464
Feast Day: March 17
Patron of: Ireland and Irish
Symbol: cross, harp, serpent, baptismal font, demons, shamrock
Just about everyone knows about Saint Patrick, just like everyone knows about Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. In the same way, that some people forget that Santa Claus is really a saint in Heaven who will pray for us if we ask him, and instead tell us stories about elves and reindeer, Saint Patrick is also a saint in Heaven who will help us if we ask. He has nothing to do with green food or leprechauns, even though those are fun ways to celebrate Saint Patricks Day.
Patrick was not Irish to begin with. He was born in Scotland at a time when Ireland was a land of pagan kings and warriors. His parents were Romans, probably there as merchants or administrators of a Roman Colony.
When Patrick was sixteen years old, Irish warriors raided Scotland and carried captives back to Ireland to be slaves. Patrick was among them. His head was shaved and he was put to work as a shepherd for an Irish Druidic high priest named Milchu. He must have been very scared and lonely.
For the next six years, Patrick learned the language and customs of the Irish people. This knowledge helped him later when he returned to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick also grew in love and devotion to God, often praying one hundred prayers a day and more at night.
One night, in a dream, God told Saint Patrick to escape his master and go to the coast, two hundred miles away. Patrick did as he was told and made the journey safely. He found a ship about to sail for Britain, but the sailors refused to take him with them. After a silent prayer to God, they agreed.
After three days of sailing, they landed and began to walk. It was a hard trip, they had no food or shelter. The others laughed at Patrick's belief in God but he told them; 'Turn in good faith and with all your heart to the Lord my God to whom nothing is impossible.' Suddenly they came across a herd of pigs and after killing them, had enough food for the rest of their trip.
In another dream, Patrick heard the people of Ireland crying out to him:' We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.' Patrick was willing but not ready for such a big job, so he began to study to be a priest and eventually was ordained. Pope Saint Clestine sent a man named Palladius to bring the Gospel to Ireland, but Palladius died. Saint Patrick was recommended for the job and willingly accepted it. He was ordained a bishop (so that he could ordain priests while he was there.)
Saint Patrick arrived back in Ireland on March 25, 433 and immediately began his work of teaching and preaching the Good News to the people of Ireland. Patrick used the shamrock's three leaves on one stem to explain the Trinity, and it has been associated with him and the Irish since that time.He converted chieftains, the family of the King, and many others. Some of these people donated land and buildings to him for churches. God performed many miracles and healings through Saint Patrick, so that everyone could see the power and mercy of God. The sick were healed, the dead were raised, the lame could walk and many miraculous flows of water still fill wells today.
It wasn't easy though. Patrick and his followers were imprisoned and sentenced to death several times, people conspired against him to the Kings, an entire county was plundered by enemies of Saint Patrick and many people were killed. Saint Patrick never gave up his work though, and by the time he was an old man all of Irleand was Christian. What a great life and work to offer to God, what a great thing God had done through Saint Patrick!
Saint Patrick of Ireland is one of the world's most popular saints. Along with Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) and Saint Valentine, Saint Patrick's feast day is celebrated, or at least recognised, by almost everyone in the world. There are many legends and stories about the life and works of Saint Patrick.
Patrick was born around 385 in Scotland, probably at or near Kilpatrick. His parent's names were Calpurnius and Conchessa. They were Romans living in Britian in charge of the colonies.
As a boy of sixteen, he was captured during a raid and taken to Ireland, a land of Druids and pagans, as a slave to herd and tend sheep. For six years, he lived in slavery, tending sheep alone on the hills. During his captivity he learned the language and practices of the Irish people.
Though not raised as a Christian, and probably quite ignorant of the Christian faith, 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 roused, 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 twenty-two. At that time, he was instructed in a dream, 'your ship is ready'. From this he understood that he was to walk to the coast and return home to Scotland. He walked 200 miles to the coast, where he found a ship preparing to sail. After some reluctance from the sailors, he was permitted to board and he sailed to Britian where he reunited with his family.
The journey was long and difficult, at one point, he and his travelling companions had no food. They mocked his Christianity and asked why does your God not help you, if He is so great and powerful? Patrick replied with confidence that the Lord would help them all. Soon after, they came across a herd of wild pigs and had a feast wihich lasted for two days. Some time after he finally returned to the arms of 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."
Convinced that he was not ready to take on such a task, he began to prepare himself for it. He began studies for the priesthood, and was ordained by Saint 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. Pope Celestine I had originally assigned Palladius to the task, but he, through fear or death (accounts vary on this point), was unable to carry out his instructions. St Germanus then recommended his student Patrick, to the Pope. 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 defeated all who were sent against him, overthrew or banished the priests of pagan religions, survived many persecutions and fearlessly and joyfully went wherever he was needed to spread God's Word. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and built 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 would stay in an area just long enough to plant the seeds of a church, then move on. By the end of his life, Ireland was almost completely Christian. 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.
(Adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Saint Patrick, we are truly fortunate that so much information and recording of this influential saint's life has been preserved through the centuries.)
Apostle of Ireland, born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387; died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, 17 March, 493. His father Calphurnius belonged to a Roman family of high rank and held the office of decurio in Gaul or Britain.and Conchessa. His mother Conchessa was a near relative of the great patron of Gaul, Saint Martin of Tours.
Kilpatrick still retains many memorials of Saint Patrick, and frequent pilgrimages continued far into the Middle Ages. In his sixteenth year, Patrick was carried off by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftan named Milchu. For six years he tended his master's flocks.
He relates in his "Confessio" that during his captivity while tending the flocks he prayed many times in the day: "the love of God", he added, "and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me."
The six years of Patrick's captivity became preparation for his future work. He gained knowledge of the Celtic tongue and, since his master Milchu was a druidical high priest, he became familiar with the details of Druidism so that he had the knowledge to effectively teach against it and counter their claims, charms and arguments later.
After six years, instructed in a dream by an angel he fled his master and travelled about 200 miles to the west. His journey was probably towards Killala Bay and onwards to Westport. He found a ship ready to set sail and thought the sailors originally refused to accept him, he was eventually allowed to board.
In a few days he was reunited with his family in Britain, but his heart was slowly filled with the conviction that he should devote himself to the service of God. He travelled to Saint Martin's monastery at Tours, and later to the island sanctuary of Lerins which had widespread renown for learning and piety, seeking education and training towards becoming a priest.
Saint Germain of Auxerre was Patrick's tutor, spiritual director and guide for many years. It was at that great bishop's hands that Saint Patrick was ordained to the priesthood. Patrick's thoughts continued to turn towards Ireland, and from time to time he was favoured with visions of the children from Focluth, by the Western sea, who cried to him: "O holy youth, come back, and walk once more amongst us."
Pope Saint Celestine I entrusted Saint Patrick with the mission of gathering the Irish race into the one fold of Christ. Palladius (q.v.) had already received that commission, but terrified by the fierce opposition of a Wicklow chieftain had abandoned the sacred enterprise, and later died in France. Saint Germain, Bishop of Auxerre commended Patrick to the pope.
It was probably in the summer months of the year 433 that Patrick and his companions landed in Ireland. The Druids and chieftains were all against him, but Patrick was undeterred. He set out first to visit his old master, to pay his ransom, and stayed in that area for some time to preach the Gospel to his former fellow slaves and captors. He performed his first miracle on Irish soil to confirm the honour due to the Blessed Virgin, and the Divine birth of our Saviour. A chieftain, named Dichu, drew his sword against the saint, but his arm became rigid as a statue and continued so until he declared himself obedient to Patrick. Overcome by the saint's meekness and miracles, Dichu asked for instruction and made a gift of a large sabhall (barn, pronounced Saul). This was the first sanctuary dedicated by Saint Patrick in Ireland. It became in later years a chosen retreat of the saint.
Saint Patrick learned from Dichu that the chieftains had been summoned to celebrate a special feast at Tara by Leoghaire, who was the Supreme Monarch of Ireland. Patrick saw this as a great opportunity; he would present himself before the assembly, to strike a decisive blow against the Druidism that held the nation captive, and to secure freedom for the glad tidings of Redemption.
It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the kingdom was to meet at Tara. A royal decree went forth that fires throughout the kingdom were to be extinguished until a signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. Saint Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane (pronounced Slay-ne), at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire. The druids at once told the king. "O King", (they said) "live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished."
Repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command. But the kings and druid's efforts were in vain. The fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power. On Easter Day the missionary band proceeded in processional order to Tara.
It was on this occasion that Saint Patrick picked a shamrock, to explain by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. On that bright Easter Day, the triumph of religion at Tara was complete. The Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old would be fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished.
Saint Patrick remained during Easter week at Slane and Tara, teaching everyone gathered in the area lessons of Divine truth. Meanwhile the national games were being celebrated a few miles distant at Tailten (now Telltown) in connection with the royal feast. Saint Patrick went there to baptise brother of the Ard-Righ Leoghaire, on Wednesday, 5 April. Others had already been privately gathered into the fold of Christ, but this was the first public administering of baptism, recognized by royal edict, and hence in the ancient Irish Kalendars to the fifth of April is assigned "the beginning of the Baptism of Ireland." He spent seven years visiting every district of Connaught, organizing parishes, forming dioceses, and instructing the chieftains and people.
In 440 Saint Patrick entered on the special work of the conversion of Ulster. In 444 a site for a church was granted at Armagh by Daire, the chieftain of the district. Saint Patrick next proceeded to Munster. As usual, his efforts were directed to combat error in the chief centres of authority, knowing well that, in the paths of conversion, the kings and chieftains would soon be followed by their subjects.
While engaged in the baptism of the royal prince Aengus, son of the King of Munster, the saint, leaning on his crosier, peirced with its sharp point the prince's foot. Aengus bore the pain unmoved. When Saint Patrick, at the close of the ceremony, saw the blood flow, and asked him why he had been silent, he replied, with genuine heroism, that he thought it might be part of the ceremony, a penalty for the joyous blessings of the Faith that were imparted. The saint admired his heroism, and, taking the chieftain's shield, inscribed on it a cross with the same point of the crozier, and promised that that shield would be the signal of countless spiritual and temporal triumphs.
Saint Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in Ireland. He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened them in the Faith and in the practice of virtue, and appointed pastors to continue his work among them. It is recorded in his Life that he consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops.
It is sometimes supposed that Saint Patrick's apostolate in Ireland was an unbroken series of peaceful triumphs, and yet it was quite the opposite. The saint was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the druids and of other enemies of the Faith. He tells us in his "Confessio" that no fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives, and on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains, and his death was decreed. It is on account of the many hardships which he endured for the Faith that, in some of the ancient Martyrologies, he is honoured as a martyr.
Saint Patrick, having now completed his triumph over Paganism, and gathered all of Ireland into the fold of Christ, prepared for the summons to his reward. Saint Brigid came to him with her chosen virgins, bringing the shroud in which he would be enshrined.
At Saul (Sabhall), Saint Patrick received the summons to his reward on 17 March, 493. Saint Tassach administered the last sacraments to him. His remains were wrapped in the shroud woven by Saint Brigid's own hands. The bishops and clergy and faithful people from all parts crowded around his remains to pay due honour to the Father of their Faith. Some of the ancient Lives record that for several days the light of heaven shone around his bier. His remains were interred at the chieftan's Dun or Fort two miles from Saul, where in after times arose the cathedral of Down.
For Saint Patrick's own account of his conversion and life of service, read: The Confessio of Saint Patrick
In His Footsteps:
Patrick was a humble, pious, gentle man, whose love and total devotion to and trust in God should be a shining example to each of us. He feared nothing, not even death, so complete was his trust in God, and of the importance of his mission.
Prayer of the Church to Saint Patrick
God our Father, You sent Saint Patrick to preach your glory to the people of Ireland.
By the help of his prayers, may all Christians proclaim Your love to all people.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Lorica (or Breastplate) of Saint Patrick
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs, In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun, Splendor of fire, Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind, Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and a near,
Alone or in a mulitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness Of the Creator of creation.
Saint Patrick (ca. 377)