Sign Up for the Navigating Troubled Times Retreat August 3rd! Early Bird Savings End April 30th

St. Patrick's Extraordinary Life

St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner! This feast day has become so ubiquitous in the United States that you'll see many people who are neither Catholic nor Irish celebrating it. While festivities can be good, let's not forget the historical man behind the green beer!

Because St. Patrick is so thoroughly identified with Ireland, it may be surprising to learn that he is not actually from the Emerald Isle! Patrick (whose birth name was Maewyn Succat) was born in Roman Britannia in the late 4th century. Though his father was a Christian deacon, it seems he and his family were not very religious in his youth. As a teenager, he was kidnapped and sold as a slave in Ireland. It was during this period that he came to identify more with his faith, and he developed a rigorous prayer life. By relying on a vision he received from God, he was able to escape to the coast, where he found sailors who were willing to bring him back to mainland.

Maewyn made it home, but his heart remained in Ireland. He became a priest, then bishop, and Pope Celestine renamed him Patrick and sent him back to Ireland to evangelize. Ireland was not part of the Roman Empire, and though Christian missionaries had reached the island before, they had not had much luck in converting the natives from their pagan and druid beliefs. However, that would change with Patrick.

Patrick knew he had quite a task before him. The Irish were a rough people, and many of them were dedicated to their pagan beliefs. Patrick humbly relied on God to keep him safe and convert souls, both of which God did. Legends of St. Patrick abound, most famously his ridding the island of snakes and using the shamrock to explain the Trinity. Less well known is the story of armed men lying in wait for Patrick and his followers as they passed through some woods. Although the men could hear Patrick approaching, they never saw him. Instead, they were passed by some deer and a fawn. God had kept Patrick and his followers safe by changing their appearance, and the armed men went away confused. Legend also claims that Patrick won over the Druids in a quite dramatic fashion. Leoghaire, the head Druid chieftain, called all the chieftains from across the island together. Hearing of this, Patrick travelled to confront them. In a show of power, the Arch-Druid conjured up demons to help him levitate. Patrick prayed to God, who overpowered the demons and sent the Arch-Druid tumbling to his death. After this, Leoghaire consented to Patrick spreading the faith across the isle.

Patrick diligently preached the Gospel, fasted, and prayed for 40 years in Ireland. In doing so, he singlehandedly won over the hearts of thousands of Irish men and women, converting the island into a Christian land. He helped establish hundreds of churches and monasteries, many of which would preserve Church documents and traditions when the fall of Rome threatened their survival. He understood the Irish tribal ways and used their culture to reach their hearts and minds. While other saints spread the Gospel through intellectual means, St. Patrick did so by humbly walking alongside the people he loved. He traveled to the farthest and remotest ends of the island and risked his life many times. Despite this, he is purported to have lived to over 100 years old (his death year is disputed). In his last years, he wrote his Confessions (which you can buy here) and frequently prayed atop Croagh Patrick. He died on March 17 (which is on a Sunday this year, which means you can have a guilt-free beer, if you gave up alcohol for Lent!). 

In honor of this great saint that converted a whole people, from whom many Catholic Americans are descended, let us pray an excerpt from his famous breastplate prayer:

Christ be with me, Christ 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 in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

You can find the whole prayer here.


By Anna Neal


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published