The (Real) Mission of St. Patrick


Fake St. Patty’s Day has a tradition of bringing hundreds, maybe even thousands, of students to Aggieville for an all-day green beer fest. But few people know why St. Patrick’s Day is really celebrated.

The following is an excerpt of an article that was written by Heidi Bright and taken from the March 8, 1983, Collegian. In her column, Bright explains who the real St. Patrick was and why we get to celebrate him this Saturday in The ‘Ville.

St. Patrick was not born an Irishman.

Reading this in a 1980 HIS magazine and in some encyclopedias surprised me. Magnus Sucatus Patricius was English. He did, however, spend 36 years on the Isle of Green. He went twice – both times against his will.

Patrick was the son of a deacon who was also a minor member of the nobility. Patrick spent his youth living in a villa by the sea.

When he was 16, Irish pirates attacked his home and carried him off, along with some of the servants.

Off to Ireland he went for the first time. The pirates sold him into slavery to a Druid tribal chieftain, and he herded swine for six years.

Eventually, out of sheer hopelessness of his situation, he turned to God and underwent a spiritual transformation. Years later he wrote about his experience in Confessio.

“I was 16 and knew not the true God,” he wrote, “but in a strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes, and I was converted.”

His utter devotion to God caused those around him to tag him “Holy-Boy.” He lived up to this name.

“Love and reverence for God came to me more and more, building up my faith so much that daily I would pray a hundred times or more,” he wrote.

His devotion to prayer aided him many times through his life. For starters, it aided his escape from slavery. One night, he wrote, he heard a voice which told him that a ship lay waiting to take him back to England.

He sneaked away from his master, and after a 200-mile trek, came to a ship bound for England.

The captain refused him admittance, but as Patrick walked away and started to pray, a crew member yelled to him to come aboard. Patrick set sail for his homeland.

Eventually Patrick wandered home. He didn’t stay for long, though.

One night in a dream a man handed him a letter with the opening words: “The Voice of the Irish.” Patrick wrote that as he read the letter, he seemed to hear the beseeching voices of those who lived where he had one been a slave. “Holy-Boy, we beg you, come walk among us again.”

Patrick did not want to go back; he was beset by fears but he felt compelled to return as a missionary to those who had enslaved him.

“I did not go back to Ireland of my own accord,” he wrote. “It was the furthest thing from be, but God made me fit, causing me to care about and labour for the salvation of others.”

Patrick sold his inheritance to pay his way to Ireland.

A breakthrough in Patrick’s ministry occurred on March 26 in A.D. 433 – a day on which both the Druids would call the sun back into the northern hemisphere and Easter happened to fall.

During this yearly pagan ritual, the Druids would put out all the fires throughout Ireland, and the chief wizard would build a bonfire on top of a mountain.

Patrick, in turn, built a bonfire on a neighboring hill to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

Troops were send by the Druids to bring Patrick before them, and the demanded an explanation for his actions. Patrick explained to them the mystery of the Incarnate God; the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Trinity.

Before the eighth century, legends were swirling around this historic event, and other legends cropped up alongside it. One holds that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

Another legend holds that Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the concept of the Trinity – three persons in one God. This legend was taken one step further to celebrate the Irish patron saint. Now, on March 17, the Irish wear the national flower of Ireland, the shamrock, in their lapels.

Whether these legends hold truth or not, the results of Patrick’s ministry are clear – the Christian message obtained credence among the Irish. After 30 years of laboring, about 100,000 people became Christians.

Patrick changed the course of the nation by providing education for the multitudes, raising the status of women from possessions to people and helping the end slavery.

– Compiled by Elise Podhajsky