Who was St. Patrick anyway? Truth or fallacy, here’s what we think we know. He brought Christianity to Ireland, he drove the snakes out of Ireland, he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Irish pagans, he always wore some item of green clothing, loved parades and, apparently, he drank a whole lot of beer.
Well… not exactly.
Patrick was born a Roman citizen of Britain to a well-heeled family sometime in the late 4th century. His Roman name was Patricius, from Latin meaning “patrician, nobly-born.” His father and grandfather were high ranking members of the emerging Christian church, but the youthful Patrick showed very little interest in religion. At the age of 15, he was kidnapped by a band of Irish raiders and brought to Ireland where he was sold into slavery as a shepherd. While there for six years under punishing conditions, the young man found God.
“After I came to Ireland I watched over sheep. Day by day I began to pray more frequently – and more and more my love of God and my faith in him and reverence for him began to increase.” – in the words of St. Patrick from his Confessions
His deepening faith led to a dream in which God told Patrick that soon he would be going home. Shortly thereafter, Patrick managed a miraculous escape from Ireland.
Once back home, Patrick’s parents were overjoyed to see their long-lost son who they had surely given up for dead (usually the end result of the brutal slave-trade conditions of the day). They must have begged him never to leave again! But Patrick, now in his early 20s, had another vision. This time a chorus of voices bellowed: “Holy Boy! Come here and walk among us!” Um, comeagain? Back to Ireland?!? The place that brutalized him for six long and harsh years? He brought new meaning to the Christian concept of loving one’s enemies.
Patrick believed he was appointed to return to the pagan island by God himself. And so he vowed to go: “I came to Ireland to preach the good news…I traded in my free birth for the good of others.” He studied at monasteries on the continent and was eventually made a priest and then a bishop. Pope Celestine I made him Apostle of Ireland and off he finally went. Over the course of nearly 30 years, Patrick was said to have converted the whole of Ireland. Not an easy task, mind you. He would have come up against the powerful Druids who had their own way of doing things, and he would have had to pay-off the local kings to secure his well-being as he journeyed through their kingdoms. He was at first most successful in the conversion of women and slaves who, for obvious reasons, most appreciated Christ’s egalitarian message. Eventually many family members of Ireland’s High King were drawn to the faith of this remarkable man, and one by one the people of Ireland became Christian. He died on March 17, 461 of natural causes. Though not Irish by birth, he died a proud Irishman.
More on the name Patrick: as previously mentioned, Patrick was born with the Latin name Patricius meaning, quite simply, “patrician” in the sense of “nobly-born, one of the patrician [aristocratic] class” with an expanded meaning of “fatherly-figure.” And indeed, he was a Father of Ireland, not just in the routine sense of a priest carrying the title of “Father” but in Patrick’s endless strength, courage, protection, discipline and love for his “children,” the people of Ireland, and is thus the embodiment of all the qualities of a great father. Another shining example of the non-arbitrary nature of names. Patrick also calculates to a #6 Destiny in numerology, apropos, the most family-oriented of all numbers. It is one of kindness and compassion, but also one that carries a strong sense of responsibility. We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried. You can read about Patrick here.
The Irish people adapted his Latin name in their own native Gaelic tongue to Pádraig which was later anglicized to Patrick, the form most familiar to us today.