The Life of St. Patrick

Most of the history of his life and his spiritual writings was recorded by St. Patrick in the 'Confessio', his spiritual autobiography and one of his two short writings that have survived (a letter he wrote to Coroticus). The most interesting facts about St. Patrick are: he wasn't born in Ireland but in Britain; he was captured and spent part of his teen years as a slave in Ireland; his explanation of the Holy Trinity by using a clover; the defeat of the Druids; the name Patrick wasn't the name he was born with but given to him much later in life by Pope Celestine. It is said that St. Patrick's real name is Maewyn Succat.

St. Patrick was born in Kilpatrick, Scotland, in the year 387. His parents Calphurnius and Conchessa belonged to a Roman family of high rank. In his sixteenth year, Patrick was carried off into captivity by Irish marauders and was sold as a slave to a chieftain named Milchu in Dalaradia, a territory of the present county of Antrim in Ireland, where for six years he tended his master's sheep flocks. He acquired a perfect knowledge of the Celtic tongue in which he would one day announce the tidings of Redemption, and, as his master Milchu was a druidical high priest, he became familiar with all the details of Druidism.

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."

After six years he fled from his cruel master. He relates in his "Confessio" that he had to travel about 200 miles He found a ship ready to set sail and after some rebuffs was allowed on board. In a few days he was among his friends once more in Britain, but now his heart was set on devoting himself to the service of God in the sacred ministry.

A couple of months after his escape he visited the St. Martin's monastery at Tours, and later the the island sanctuary of Lerins. Patrick placed himself under the guidance of a bishop, St. Germain. A few years later Patrick was promoted to the priesthood. He engaged in various missionary works. He was chosen to accompany St. Germain to Britain to combat the erroneous teachings of Pelagius. He was privileged was his privilege to be associated with the representative of Rome in the triumphs that ensued over heresy and Paganism, and in the many remarkable events of the expedition, such as the miraculous calming of the tempest at sea, the visit to the relics at St. Alban's shrine, and the Alleluia victory. He stayed in Britain for eighteen years

During those years, Patrick's thoughts turned towards Ireland. He would often speak of his experiences in Ireland with his mentor St. Germain, Bishop of Auxerre. The bishop recommended Patrick to the pope and traveled to Rome. It was only shortly before his death that Pope Celestine entrusted Patrick with the mission of bringing Christianity to Ireland and on that occasion bestowed on him many relics and other spiritual gifts, and gave him the name "Patercius" or "Patritius". This name is derived from two Latin words pater civium meaning the father of his people.

It was probably in the summer months of the year 433, that Patrick and his companions landed at the mouth of the Vantry River close by Wicklow Head. The Druids were at once in arms against him. There are many legends of miracles and magical fights between him and the druids. For example:

-St. Patrick continued his journey over land towards Slemish. He had not proceeded far when a chieftain, named Dichu, appeared on the scene to prevent his further advance. He drew his sword to kill 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). This was the first sanctuary dedicated by St. Patrick.

-The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse then Egyptian darkness. Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene.

-By demoniac power the Arch-Druid Lochru was lifted up high in the air, but when Patrick knelt in prayer the druid from his flight was dashed to pieces upon a rock.

He was able to easily spread the word of Christianity because of his knowledge of the Celtic language. It took him several years to destroy paganism in Ireland. He conquered one kingdom after another. He survived several death threats. 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 that he is also honored as a martyr.

The greatest legend of St. Patrick is the use of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. On a Easter Sunday St. Patrick plucked a shamrock from the ground and explained by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. Another legend is that he banished all snakes from Ireland.

St. Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in Ireland. Despite a constant threat to his life, Patrick traveled widely, baptizing, confirming, and preaching and building churches, schools, and monasteries. Patrick succeeded in converting almost the entire population of the island. His 'Epistola' pleads the case of the Christian Irish at the hands of their British conquerors. Patrick's writings have come to be appreciated for their simplicity and humility. 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 that he consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops.

St. Patrick died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on the 17 March, 460 A.D. This is why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day on the seventeenth of March. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.

SOURCE: Catholic Encyclopedia, 1997

SOURCE: Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, 1995

SOURCE: Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Third Edition 1994