Daily Archives: December 9, 2009

For Your Reading Pleasure (or Pain)…

. . . I give you . . . my research paper on St. Patrick!  🙂

Jennie Miller

St. Patrick

St. Patrick was born to noble, Christian parents in the year 387 A.D. (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 1; Conyngham, 1885, p. 2).  His father, Calpurnius, was British and a Roman citizen and his mother, Conchessa, was related to St. Martin of Tours (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 1).  Even in the beginning, St. Patrick was known to be a special child:

Miracles presided even over the birth of the Saint.  As no priest was to be found, the infant was taken to be baptized by the blind hermit, Gornias, who dwelt in the neighbourhood.  A difficulty arose from the want of water with which to perform the ceremony.  Gornias, however, inwardly enlightened, took the tiny hand of the babe and with it traced the sign of the cross upon the earth, with the result that a spring of water gushed forth.  Bathing his own eyes first, the hermit forthwith saw, and was able to read the baptismal rite, although before this he had been unacquainted with letters (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 7).

 Many other miracles have been attributed to St. Patrick; however, scholars have found reason to doubt the veracity of some of the stories, and feel that at this point it is impossible to distinguish truth from legend (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 13).  However,

[t]he general conclusion to be drawn from the stories is, that the Saint was brought up strictly, taught to labour with his hands, and trained to endure privations and hardships with courage.  The activity of his temperament, his natural cheerfulness, generosity and kindness of heart, had full scope in the healthy outdoor life he led, while the tender affection of his guardians shielded him from all harm.  His mind was already drawn to God by faith and confidence, his conversation was with the angels, and no shadow of evil had yet crossed his path (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 13-14).

 When he was sixteen, it is thought that he was captured by the sea-king, Niall, and brought to Ireland to be sold in the slave markets (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 16).  He was bought by a petty king of Dalaradia named Milcho and brought to the region of the mountain named Slemish (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 20).  His task was to mind a herd of swine in the woods (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 20-21).  This solitary work gave St. Patrick much time for self-reflection and prayer and led him to a significant conversion to God (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 21).  While serving under Milcho, he found companionship with the native Irish, learning the language and culture, and gaining a desire to want to bring these people to know God (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 22-23).  After six years of captivity, he escaped and found his way back to Britain.  Shortly after his return, he had a vision wherein the Irish called to him to show them the path to salvation (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 37).  Knowing that he was not yet ready for this mission, St. Patrick sought to further his education under the direction of his relative, St. Martin, the bishop of Tours, at the monastery of Marmoutier (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 40).  After the death of St. Martin, St. Patrick went to Auxerre and then to Lerins, an island in the Mediterranean (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 45-47).  After many years in Lerins, he returned to Auxerre and may have been called back by the British Church to help defend against the Pelagian heresy (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 50-51).  During this time, he continued to hear the cry of the Irish children for his return (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 51).  St. Patrick sought an audience with Pope Celestine I and was granted permission to evangelize Ireland (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 56-57).  St. Patrick was ordained a bishop; and in the year 432, he set out for Ireland (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 57-61).  Upon reaching Ireland, he headed for the region of his captivity, making disciples along the way (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 63-64).  Before St. Patrick’s arrival, his former captor, Milcho, committed suicide lest he be converted from his Druidic faith (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 71). 

On Holy Saturday, 433 A.D., the High Kings of Erin were to celebrate their festival, “[b]ut until the sacred flame was seen to burn on Tara’s hill all fires were strictly prohibited” (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 77).  Ten miles away, St. Patrick was setting up camp on the hill of Slane, preparing for the Easter festival (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 79-80).  When darkness fell, St. Patrick lit the paschal fire, inciting the wrath of the High King, who had not yet lit his own fire (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 81).  The druids in the company of the High King told him of St. Patrick’s fire that “unless it is quenched on the night on which it was made, it will not be quenched till doomsday” (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 82).  The High King and his party confronted St. Patrick and a wizard named Lochru verbally attacked him, going so far as to blaspheme the Blessed Trinity (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 85).  At this, St. Patrick called upon the Lord to kill the blasphemer, who was then raised into the air and fell onto a rock, dying in the presence of the crowd (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 86).  The High King, Laeghaire, was angered and ordered St. Patrick’s death, but while the soldiers advanced on St. Patrick, the sky darkened and the earth shook and the soldiers were confused to the point of killing each other and fleeing (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 87).  King Laeghaire invited St. Patrick to Tara, with the intention of ambushing him and killing him on the way; it was during this journey that St. Patrick is purported to have composed “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 90).  He remained in Slane and Tara for Easter week, teaching the Gospel and, on April 5, 433, baptized Conall, the brother of the High King (Moran, 1911).  Because “this was the first public administering of baptism, recognized by royal edict . . . , the fifth of April is assigned ‘the beginning of the Baptism of Erin’” (Moran, 1911).  In the year 440, St. Patrick began the work of converting the province of Ulster (Moran, 1911).  He traveled to Meath, Leinster, and Munster, directing his efforts “to combat error in the chief centres of authority, knowing well that, in the paths of conversion, the kings and chieftains would soon be followed by their subjects” (Moran, 1911).

St. Patrick was upset when soldiers of Coroticus took some of his new Christians to be sold into slavery and wrote the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, in which he excommunicated them (Thurston & Attwater, 1999, p. 171).  This action may have incited the British bishops into an examination of St. Patrick’s ministry, to which he responded by writing his Confession (Thurston & Attwater, 1999, p. 171)“St. Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in Ireland.  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” (Moran, 1911).

What St. Patrick contributed to Church life was a Celtic form of Christianity, which was not far from the traditions and practices of the Druids (Tennant, 2000).  He had a unique way of teaching theology using nature:

Perhaps the most famous legend connected with Patrick is that of the explanation of the Trinity or Triunity by way of the shamrock.  The story is that the Irish disciples of Patrick had difficulty with the understanding of a God who is at one and the same time one and three.  So Patrick stooped down and picked up a shamrock and showed how it was at once three and one.  Apparently the Irish were satisfied with the explanation and have never wavered in their Trinitarian orthodoxy from that day to this (O’Donoghue, 1987, p. 25).

 “Perhaps the most enduring feature of Irish Christianity through the centuries is its missionary spirit, which assuredly owes much to Ireland’s patron saint” (Thurston & Attwater, 1999, p. 168).  “It is recorded in his Life that he consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops,” (Moran, 1911).  In addition to baptizing many of the Irish people and ordaining priests and bishops, St. Patrick also founded several churches and monasteries, including Sabhall and Donagh-Patrick, which remain to present day (Moran, 1911).  “The tender devotion of the people of Ireland to the Blessed Mother of God owes its origin to the seeds planted by St. Patrick,” (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 67).  He was a great example to the Church of a life led in piety and penance (Moran, 1911).  “When not engaged in the work of the sacred ministry, his whole time was spent in prayer” (Moran, 1911). 

            St. Patrick’s impact is greatly felt today, as attested to by the pervasiveness of tales of St. Patrick even in secular culture.  His feast day is found on many calendars and it is tradition in many areas to wear green and “be Irish” on that day, affirming St. Patrick’s ties to Ireland.  Of greater import than the secular traditions that we have is the spiritual and religious legacy left by him.  He leaves behind him a message of hope, “not only the hope of attaining a better life after the exile of this world, but the strong hope . . . that, however dark the present may appear, there are better days to come even here below.” (St. Patrick, 1911, p. 27).  The fact of our western culture may owe its existence in part to the actions of St. Patrick, for:

[I]t is Patrick’s conversion of Ireland that makes possible the preservation of Western thought through the early Dark Ages by the Irish monasteries founded by Patrick’s successors. When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick (McSorley, 1997).

 St. Patrick’s missionary spirit so affected the culture of the Irish people that its effects are felt even in our own country.  “The rapid progress of Catholicity in America is mainly owing to the increase and faith of the Irish.  They have been the pioneers of Catholicity here, and their generous zeal for the faith has covered the land with magnificent temples for Divine worship” (Conyngham, 1885, p. 108). 


Conyngham, D.P.  (1885).  Lives of the Irish saints and martyrs.  New York, NY:  Excelsior Catholic Publishing House.

McSorley, A.M.  (1997).  The St. Patrick you never knew.  Retrieved December 9, 2009 from American Catholic:  http://www.americancatholic.org/messenger/mar1997/feature1.asp

Moran, P.F.  (1911).  St. Patrick.  In The Catholic Encyclopedia.  New York:  Robert Appleton Company.  Retrieved November 13, 2009 from New Advent:  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11554a.htm

O’Donoghue, N.D.  (1987).  Aristocracy of soul:  Patrick of Ireland.  Wilmington, DE:  Michael Glazier, Inc.

St. Patrick:  Apostle of Ireland.  (1911).  London:  Sands & Company.

Tennant, D.  (Director).  (2000).  St. Patrick:  Apostle of Ireland.  [Motion picture].  (Available from Janson Video, Inc., Harrington Park, NJ  07640).

Thurston, H. & Attwater, D. (Eds.).  (1999).  Butler’s lives of the saints (2nd ed)  (Vol. March).  Collegeville, MN:  The Liturgical Press.