March is the season of green beer, corned beef, and cabbage, as today St. Patrick’s Day is observed around the globe as a celebration of everything Irish.
The real St. Patrick however, was far more interesting than even the legends of his accomplishments made him out to be, and Patrick’s early life reads more like an Indiana Jones movie than that of a famed Catholic Saint.
St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain at a time when Ireland and at just fourteen was captured by Irish pirates, hauled off to Ireland and was forced into slavery. Young Patrick’s job was that of a Shepard, herding and tending sheep.
Ireland at that time was far less civilized and was the pagan homeland of the Druids. It was during this period as a slave that young Patrick developed a deep and lasting bond with God which carried with him throughout his life.
It was a story he later related in his memoir, The Confession.
“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.”
Guided by his strong belief in God, Patrick was led by a dream in which he claimed to have been told by God that he would be able to leave Ireland by heading for the coast. It was there he met some sailors who returned him to Britain at age 20.
There he was reunited with his family and began his bond with the Roman Catholic Church and as the result of a vision that inspired his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom Patrick had studied under for years.
Later became an ordained bishop himself, but his adventures didn’t end there and requested to take the message of the Gospel to Ireland. There are several accounts of what happened next, however, but Patrick soon became the stuff of legends.
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The most popular account claims that he met a chieftain head of one of the Druid tribes, who in return attempted to kill him. Patrick claimed an intervention from God led him to preach and eventually convert the chieftain who granted permission for him to preach the Gospels throughout Ireland.
Patrick’s ministry was driven by a deep and personal sincerity that he almost seemed to have been born with him. His preaching was so successful, inspiring and powerful that he was almost able to convert anybody he came across.
You could say that St. Patrick was the most dedicated and determined pitchman in history, who rarely took “no” for an answer.
It was through this ability that Patrick was able to convert thousands to Catholicism through his deep sincerity and sheer determination. Patrick often used shamrocks in an effort to explain the Holy Trinity and entire kingdoms eventually converted to Christianity after hearing his message.
The Druid nobility and leaders were not impressed with Patrick, and although he was arrested several times, he somehow managed to escape and went right back to preaching.
Patrick preached and converted throughout all of Ireland for forty years.
He was reported to have worked many miracles both real and imagined but continued to live a pious and righteous life that he related in Confessions. He spent years living a vow of poverty, enduring much suffering until he quietly died March 17, 461.
But such was his impact that St. Patrick’s Day became an immediate celebration of his life and works.
It could be said that no other Roman Catholic Saint or any religious figure other than for Christ himself has been more celebrated throughout the centuries.
Although, originally specifically a Catholic religious celebration, it soon became a secular celebration of the Irish heritage and immigrants carried it with them wherever they settled. No matter how you view St. Patrick, there certainly isn’t another figure in Irish history or lore that lives up to his image.
Over the 1,500 years following his death, myth mixed fact and many accounts of St. Patrick emerged, including the miracle of removing all of the snakes from Ireland.
But much of this is the result of the impact Patrick had on those around him.
Part of this lasting image stems from the fact that Patrick truly believed everything he preached and he rigorously practiced this in his everyday life. He was gentle, loving, patient and a sincerely deeply spiritual man who people wanted to emulate.
Not a bad legacy to have for a runaway former slave.