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St. Patrick of Ireland is one of the world's most popular saints.
Along with St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, the secular world shares our love of these saints.

    Patrick was born sometime around 380 in Scotland or Wales. His parents were Calpurnius (whom some believe was a deacon) and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. His real name was believed to be Maewyn Succat and he took the names Patrick (or Patricus in Latin and later as Padraig in Gaelic) after he became a priest.

    As a boy of fourteen or so, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep for an Irish chieftain named Milchu who lived on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim. Ireland at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. He learned the language and practices of the people who held him.

    During his captivity, he turned to God in prayer. He wrote: "The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

    Patrick's captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britain, where he reunited with his family. He had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him, "We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more."

    He recorded his call to a vocation, as well as many other dreams and miracles from God in the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography. The only other writing to survive is the Epistola, which pleads the case for the Christian Irish at the hands of their British conquerors.

    He began his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years. Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland, replacing Palladius (d. 431). He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane, known to the people of the Isle as Padraig. One legend says that he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly to Patrick. Dichu gave the saint a barn at Saul, County Down, for his first church.

    He was intractable, and despite having his life repeatedly threatened, he and his followers preached and converted thousands while also building churches, monasteries and schools all over the country. Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing Patrick's message. He eventually made his home base in Armagh, now the Primatial See of Ireland.

    Patrick by now had many disciples, among them Beningnus, Auxilius, Iserninus, and Fiaac, (all later canonized as well). He preached, administered the sacraments and converted thousands as he traveled throughout Ireland for over 40 years. He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in his Confessions.

    According to tradition St. Patrick died in 493 in Downpatrick, County Down, and was buried in the same grave as were Ireland's later holy people, St. Bridget and St. Columba. Another legend says the saint ended his days at Glastonbury and was buried there. The Chapel of St. Patrick still exists as part of Glastonbury Abbey. There is evidence of an Irish pilgrimage to his tomb in Glastonbury during the reign of the Saxon King Ine in 688, when a group of pilgrims headed by St. Indractus were murdered.

Ledgends of Padraigs of Ireland: The Blackbirds

    With the great Padraig, Saint if the Isle, it is oft times difficult to separate actual history and legend. Once he spent 40 days on a mountain in County Mayo, now known as Croagh Patrick. He was harassed by demons in the form of blackbirds, clustered so densely that the sky was dark. Still, he continued in prayer ringing his bell (the one he used to call the people to faith lessons and worship) trying to rid himself of these assailants from Hell. Finally an angel appeared to the saint reassuring him that all his prayers for the Irish people would be granted, and that they would retain their Christian faith until Judgment Day.

Driving Out The Snakes

    Different tales tell of Patrick standing on a hill, using his wooden staff to drive the serpents into the sea, and banishing them forever from the shores of Ireland. One legend says that one old serpent resisted, but the saint overcame it by cunning. He is said to have made a box and invited the reptile to enter. The snake insisted the box was too small and the discussion became very heated. Finally the snake entered the box to prove he was right, whereupon Patrick slammed the lid and cast the box into the sea. While it is true there are no snakes in Ireland, chances are that there never have been since the time the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age. While not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, it was Patrick who encountered the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites, which often associated snakes as part of their worship.

The Shamrock

    The shamrock, or trefoil, at one time called the "Seamroy," symbolizes the cross and Blessed Trinity...as it has one stem with three lines going through three equally sized leaves at the top of the stem. Before the Christian era it was a sacred plant of the Druids of Ireland because its leaves formed a triad. The well-known legend of the shamrock connects it definitely to St. Patrick and his teaching. Preaching in the open hills and fields on the doctrine of the Trinity, he is said to have illustrated the existence of the Three in One by plucking a shamrock from the grass growing at his feet and showing it to those who had gathered around him. The legend of the shamrock is also connected with that of the banishment of the serpent tribe from Ireland by a tradition that snakes are never seen on trefoil and that it is a remedy against the bite of snakes and the stings of scorpions. The trefoil in Arabia is called "shamrakh" and was sacred in Iran as an emblem of the Persian triads. The trefoil, being a sacred plant to the Druids, and three being a mystical number in the Celtic religion as well as others, it is probable that St. Patrick must have been aware of the significance of his illustration.

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