We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green and perhaps learning more about our Irish heritage. But how much do we know about St. Patrick, the Catholic saint behind our tradition of eating corned beef and cabbage?
A big portion of St. Patrick’s story remains a mystery. The traditional legend, often criticized by scholars, mostly comes from St. Patrick’s autobiography Confessio and his letters to Coroticus. While some scholars question the facts behind Patrick’s story to sainthood, this legend of St. Patrick’s story is known to many.
A Slave at Sixteen
Born along the Great Britain coast around 386 A.D., Patrick was torn away from his family during an Irish raid when he was sixteen years old. These devastating raids were quite common, as the Irish desired young boys and girls to herd sheep and cows they stole. Patrick was no exclusion to this sad fate, and he worked in rough conditions, with little food and water and no companions to talk to. He turned to his faith in God, praying many times a day for his safety and freedom.
The Journey to Freedom
Six years later, in a dream, an angel told Patrick, “You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country.” Then the angel said he would find safe travel on a cargo ship leaving for Europe. After trekking 200 miles on foot, Patrick was refused entry when he arrived. He prayed for the captain to have a change of heart, and he ultimately let Patrick board the ship.
After returning home to his parents, Patrick received another vision, in which another angel asked him to return to Ireland, his original location of enslavement. Despite his previous trauma of living and working in Ireland, Patrick eagerly followed God’s plan for him, with the goal of converting the Irish to Christianity and providing ministry to Christians already inhabiting the land.
To prepare for this journey, Patrick studied for over fifteen years, eventually becoming ordained as a priest. Then, he began his mission of evangelization.
The Path to Sainthood
When Patrick arrived, he found that most Irish practiced nature-based paganism. Instead of asking them to drop everything they believe and pledge to Christianity, he incorporated their traditions. For example, he celebrated Easter with a bonfire since the Irish used fire to worship their gods.
He often faced threats of martyrdom, but over time, Patrick converted the hearts of many to God. He performed the work of God until March 17, 460 A.D., when he died in Saul in Northern Ireland. Like most saints from the first millennium, Patrick was not formally canonized by the Catholic Church. The popularity of St. Patrick’s story most likely contributed to the acknowledgment of his sainthood.
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and many admire him for converting and baptizing so many Irish. In addition, he pursued his faith despite his slavery and the crushing obstacles he faced. Even though St. Patrick lived so long ago, we can certainly still see the effects of his work today.
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