Recalling St. Patrick – Former slave converts pagan nation; still honored today

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Published on March 15, 2017 with No Comments

by Steve Euvino

This stained-glass image of St. Patrick is near the entrance to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Chesterton. Along with St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, Patrick is popular with the secular world as well as the religious community.

This statue of St. Patrick stands outside St. Patrick Catholic Church in Chesterton. The saint is shown holding a shamrock, which has been used to represent the Holy Trinity.

They say everyone is a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. From the wearing of the green to corned beef and cabbage to a pint at your favorite pub, St. Patrick has joined St. Nicholas and St. Valentine as people of faith warmly recognized by the secular world.

But who is St. Patrick, the patron of Ireland, and why is he so popular?

He was born Maewyn Succat in the year 387 in Roman Britain. Around age 14, he was captured by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave, tending sheep. At this time, Ireland was a land of Druids and pagans, but Maewyn turned to God.

The future bishop’s captivity lasted until he was 20, when he escaped after having a dream in which God told him to leave Ireland by heading for the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britain and his family.

A few years later, as Patrick would write in his memoirs, he had a vision, in which he heard the voices of people from Foclut, on the west coast of Ireland. As he wrote, “… they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’”

That vision prompted the young man to pursue the priesthood and eventually change his name to Patrick. Later ordained a bishop, Patrick was sent to carry the Gospel to Ireland, arriving on March 25, 433.

What happened next is the stuff of legends. One legend states Patrick met and converted a druid chieftain who had wanted to kill the Christian missionary. As Patrick preached throughout Ireland, he made many converts and began building churches around the Emerald Isle.

Patrick preached throughout Ireland for 40 years. Said to have worked many miracles, he wrote of his love for God in his Confessions. He died March 17, 461 at Saul, the site of the first church he built in Ireland. He is said to be buried in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, and his grave was marked with a granite stone in 1990.

Patrick has been remembered as a humble, pious, gentle man, totally devoted to and trusting in God.  He wrote of this strong faith in “The Breastplate,” a poem:

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

Here is some St. Patrick trivia:

• His interests and hobbies included preaching, writing, travel, church building, and hill walking.

• One popular myth about St. Patrick states he used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. The three-sided plant was used in Ireland as a symbol of Christ’s cross.

• Another myth holds that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. Truth is, Ireland never had snakes. The serpent metaphor was probably used to represent Patrick driving out paganism.

• Patrick was not the first to preach the Gospel to the Irish. Christian missionaries had been to Ireland prior to the saint’s arrival.

• Some folks believed Patrick was born and died on the same day – March 17. That claim is unlikely.

• St. Patrick’s Day parades originated not in Ireland but in this country. The first such parade took place in 1737 and was hosted by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston.

• Pota Phadraig (Patrick’s Pot) is the name given to the measure of whiskey to be consumed on St. Patrick’s Day. Tradition holds that a shamrock is floated in the whiskey before consuming, thus leading to the saying “drowning the shamrock.”

• St. Patrick’s Day has been called “a time to begin transforming winter to dream into summer’s magic.”

• Here’s a St. Patrick’s Day toast: “To a long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold beer – and another one!”

   Note: Among the sources for this story was www.catholic.org.


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