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St. Patrick's Missionary Journey to Ireland

c. 450

The emergence of St. Patrick as one of the great Christian evangelists to Ireland is quite an amazing story, considering that he faced persecution throughout his life and that he was not even Irish. However, one cannot dispute the profound impact Patrick had on the spread of Christianity in Ireland.

Magonus Sucatus Patricius (St. Patrick) was born c. 385 in Kilpatrick, Scotland. His father was a deacon named Calpornius, and his grandfather was a priest named Pototus. Such a family grounded in the Church ensured that Patrick would be trained in the Church as well. However, he faced hardships early in his life. When he was about 16 years old, barbaric raiders from Ireland attacked the shores of Great Britain (Mould 273). Patrick was taken captive and put into slavery in Ireland for the next six years (Morgan 40).

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This period in captivity helped prepare Patrick for his actions later in life. While in captivity, Patrick worked near the modern day town of Ballymena. These years were a time when Patrick grew and matured in his faith. In Patrick’s confessions he wrote that "the love of God, 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 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" (Morgan; paragraph 2). Patrick also learned much about the Irish people during his time in captivity. He learned the Celtic language, which served him well upon his return. He also learned of the Celtic religion of Druidism (Morgan; paragraph 2). After six years, Patrick had a vision in a dream, and it told him to leave the island. So, after six years of slavery, Patrick escaped.

Following his escape from Ireland, Patrick went to France where he joined the monastery at Lerins (Morgan 40). In Lerins, Patrick became a priest. Through this experience, Patrick became involved in the mission of the Church to combat paganism in Great Britain (Morgan; paragraph 3). Patrick spent several years studying at Auxerre and eventually became a bishop. During this long period of study, Patrick felt a strong calling to return to Ireland. St. Palladius had already received the commission from the Pope to spread the gospel in Ireland. However, he gave it up for fear of a barbaric chieftain in Ireland (Morgan; paragraph 4). Thus, as Palladious gave up his commission, Patrick began his mission on the island of Ireland around the year 432.

When Patrick arrived in Ireland, his mission seemed simple enough: Bring the Gospel to the people of Ireland. Having been a slave in Ireland, he was familiar with the language and culture of the Irish. However, the primary difficulty he faced was the opposition of the Druid priests. Contrary to what some believe, Patrick’s mission was not entirely peaceful. As Morgan explains, "he was subject to frequent trials at the hands of the Druids. . .no fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives, and on one occasion in particular. . .his death was decreed" (11).

Despite the clear opposition from the Druids, Patrick moved through Ireland preaching the good news to the Irish, who for the first time were hearing it in their own language (Morgan, paragraph 5). He also performed miracles while at the same time preaching the news of redemption. While Patrick continued to preach the gospel, the Druids continued to oppose him, until Patrick appeared before the high king of Ireland, King Laoghaire. After a display of miracles and disproving the Druids in the king’s court, many of the king’s followers, including his brother, became Christians within the next few days (Morgan 4). Legend says that it was here that Patrick used the shamrock to teach the idea of the Holy Trinity.

Patrick did not stop here, though. Bolstered by his success at the king’s court, he continued to spread the gospels throughout the provinces of Ulster, Munster, Meath, Leinster, performing miracles and planting churches. By the time of Patrick’s death in 461 he converted almost the entire island to Christianity (Morgan 40), and he also consecrated over 350 bishops (Morgan 9). St. Patrick made the gospel something that the Irish people were receptive to. Perhaps it was because he spoke of it in their native tongue, or because he performed miracles, or because he disproved the Druids, whatever the case may be, Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in a way no one else had done before him.

In honor of him, St. Patrick’s feast is celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of his death, and it is an Irish national holiday.

Sources:

Moran, Patrick Francis Cardinal. "St. Patrick." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Online. New Advent Inc. 30 Nov. 1998.

Morgan, Tom. Saints. Vancouver: Raincoast Books. 1994

Mould, Daphne D. C. Pochin Mould, B.Sc., Ph.D. The Irish Saints. Dublin: Clonmore and Reynolds LTD. London: Burns and Oats LTD. 1964.


Edited by: Jeremy Vreeman
Researched by: Stephen Sharkey
Written by: Nathan Windt
December 15, 1998

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