St. Patrick’s Day has come to be known for many as a time to wear green clothing, to feast on corned beef and cabbage, and to put green food coloring in practically everything. But what and who are we celebrating? Who was the man—the Saint—that inspired St. Patrick’s Day?
Although St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, he wasn’t even Irish. Accounts vary but he was born somewhere in the British Isles, around the 4th century, to Roman parents. His given name was Maewyn Succat.
As a teen, Patrick was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During his six years of captivity, Patrick turned to God and became deeply devoted to Christianity. At the age of 20, Patrick had a dream from God telling him to leave Ireland by going to the coast where he would find a ship waiting to sail to Britain. Acting on his dream, Patrick ran away from his master and travelled 200 miles to a port where he convinced some sailors to let him board their ship. He was finally able to make his way back to Britain where he was reunited with his family.
After returning to Britain, Patrick went to France where he studied and entered the priesthood, and adopted the name Patrick. In another dream Patrick saw the children of Pagan Ireland reaching out their hands to him. He became increasingly determined to return to Ireland to free the Irish from their pagan ways by converting them to Christianity.
Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the next 40 years preaching, converting, and abolishing paganism. He and his disciples are responsible for converting all of Ireland to Christianity.
After years of living in poverty and enduring much suffering, St. Patrick died on March 17 at Saul, Downpatrick, where he had built the first church in Ireland.
St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, but many Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven.