Millions around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every March 17 when the day evolved into a secular celebration recognizing Irish culture.

Patrick was a missionary to Ireland, an ex-slave who was not even born in Ireland and became that nation's most effective Christian witness. Born in Rome Britain somewhere around 390, he was the son of Christian parents.

Previously he had not taken his faith too seriously but at 16 when he was captured, enslaved and sent to work as a swineherd on a farm in Northern Ireland, he began to pray ardently. He escaped from slavery and traveled 200 miles on foot to the coast. There, a ship carrying a cargo of hounds took him on as a dog tender. He traveled to France and on to a Mediterranean monastery.

Legend clouds much of Patrick's life. But, he is known for describing the Trinity by comparing it to a “shamrock.” Patrick died around 460 and left us a few short writings including the notable hymn, “I bind unto myself today” (Known as “Patrick’s Breastplate”). He lived a simple, devoted life often in rough circumstances. The church of Ireland had developed outside the hierarchical system of Rome because Patrick evangelized the nation without relying on the established church. The  Irish church was organized around monasteries, which reflected the nation’s tribal system. And, Irish abbots encouraged their monks in the “real business" of the church; preaching, studying and ministering to the poor.

Ireland did not really become Catholic until the 1100s when the pope gave the English King, Henry II, sovereignty over Ireland. The Catholic church, admiring the way Patrick had converted the Irish, made him a saint at that time. But the sad fact was that Patrick was never canonized by the Catholic Church and is a “saint” in name only. Nevertheless, it is a celebration complete with music, dancing and spirits for some and a day to sit back and enjoy a lighthearted celebration. And, everyone would agree any celebration would be welcomed at this time in the history of our nation!  

Kathleen Chamis


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