St. Patrick of Ireland is one of the world's most popular saints. He was born in Roman Britain and when he was fourteen or so, he was captured by Irish pirates during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. At the time, Ireland was a land of Druids and pagans but Patrick turned to God and wrote his memoir, The Confession. In The Confession, 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 twenty, 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 and was reunited with his family.
A few years after returning home, Patrick saw a vision he described in his memoir:
"I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: 'The Voice of the Irish.' As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea-and they cried out, as with one voice: 'We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.'"
The vision prompted his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years, and was later ordained a bishop and sent to take the Gospel to Ireland.
Patrick arrived in Slane, Ireland on March 25, 433. There are several legends about what happened next, with the most prominent claiming he met the chieftan of one of the druid tribes, who tried to kill him. After an intervention from God, Patrick was able to convert the chieftain and preach the Gospel throughout Ireland. There, he converted many people -eventually thousands - and he began building churches across the country.
He often used shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity and entire kingdoms were eventually converted to Christianity after 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 Irish church. He is believed to be buried in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick. His grave was marked in 1990 with a granite stone.
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. So complete was his trust in God, and of the importance of his mission, he feared nothing -not even death.
"The Breastplate," Patrick's poem of faith and trust in God:
"Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."
Patrick was born in Britain of a Romanized family. At age 16 he was torn by Irish raiders from the villa of his father, Calpurnius, a deacon and minor local official, and carried into slavery in Ireland. He spent six bleak years there as a herdsman, during which he turned with fervour to his faith. Upon dreaming that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he fled his master and found passage to Britain. There he came near to starvation and suffered a second brief captivity before he was reunited with his family. Thereafter, he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.
The best known passage in the Confessio tells of a dream, after his return to Britain, in which one Victoricus delivered him a letter headed “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, he seemed to hear a certain company of Irish beseeching him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the shortcomings of his education, he was reluctant for a long time to respond to the call. Even on the eve of reembarkation for Ireland he was beset by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once in the field, however, his hesitations vanished. Utterly confident in the Lord, he journeyed far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a kinglet here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any. On at least one occasion, he was cast into chains. On another, he addressed with lyrical pathos a last farewell to his converts who had been slain or kidnapped by the soldiers of Coroticus.
Careful to deal fairly with the non-Christian Irish, he nevertheless lived in constant danger of martyrdom. The evocation of such incidents of what he called his “laborious episcopate” was his reply to a charge, to his great grief endorsed by his ecclesiastical superiors in Britain, that he had originally sought office for the sake of office. In point of fact, he was a most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped “idols and unclean things” had become “the people of God.”
The phenomenal success of Patrick’s mission is not, however, the full measure of his personality. Since his writings have come to be better understood, it is increasingly recognized that, despite their occasional incoherence, they mirror a truth and a simplicity of the rarest quality. Not since St. Augustine of Hippo had any religious diarist bared his inmost soul as Patrick did in his writings. As D.A. Binchy, the most austerely critical of Patrician (i.e., of Patrick) scholars, put it, “The moral and spiritual greatness of the man shines through every stumbling sentence of his ‘rustic’ Latin.”
It is not possible to say with any assurance when Patrick was born. There are, however, a number of pointers to his missionary career having lain within the second half of the 5th century. In the Coroticus letter, his mention of the Franks as still “heathen” indicates that the letter must have been written between 451, the date generally accepted as that of the Franks’ irruption into Gaul as far as the Somme River, and 496, when they were baptized en masse. Patrick, who speaks of himself as having evangelized heathen Ireland, is not to be confused with Palladius, sent by Pope Celestine I in 431 as “first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.”
Before the end of the 7th century, Patrick had become a legendary figure, and the legends have continued to grow. One of these would have it that he drove the snakes of Ireland into the sea to their destruction. Another, probably the most popular, is that of the shamrock, which has him explain the concept of the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk. Traditionally, Irishmen have worn shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, in their lapels on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.Tarlach O'Raifeartaigh