The enduring legacy of St. Patrick Print
Thursday, Mar. 15, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

As someone with Irish ancestors, I am proud to claim an Irish background, joining with over 34 million Americans who are apparently descended from Irish roots.

So celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 has a special significance for me and many others in our country. And in fact, we often say that everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!

However, it seems that with the wearing of the green, eating corned beef and cabbage, and singing Irish songs, many people don’t remember the religious significance of St. Patrick any longer.

That’s why it might be meaningful for Catholics of Irish descent to remind our family members and others in society about the life of St. Patrick and why he was so important not only to Ireland, but to the world.

Story of St. Patrick

I found that the story of St. Patrick seems be generally agreed upon by many sources that I checked. Legend has it that Patrick came to Ireland from what is now England in the fifth century. He was kidnapped as a teenager by roving Irish marauders and brought to Antrim, in the north of Ireland. He lived in slavery for six years as a shepherd before escaping as a stowaway on a ship to Gaul (France).

He returned to his parents’ home in England. Not long after that, he had a vision that he would return to Ireland and lead the people to Christianity. He entered a seminary and returned to Ireland 14 years later as a priest. For the next 30 years, he built churches, converted thousands, and expelled all serpents from Ireland. Some say it wasn’t literally serpents but the Druids — who used a serpent as a symbol — he defeated.

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells of one story of St. Patrick upon his return to Ireland: “He had not proceeded far when a chieftain, named Dichu, appeared on the scene to prevent his further advance. He drew his sword to smite the saint, but his arm became rigid as a statue and continued so until he declared himself obedient to Patrick. Overcome by the saint’s meekness and miracles, Dichu asked for instruction and made a gift of a large sabhall (barn), in which the sacred mysteries were offered up. This was the first sanctuary dedicated by St. Patrick in Erin. It became in later years a chosen retreat of the saint. A monastery and church were erected there, and the hallowed site retains the name Sabhall (pronounced Saul) to the present day.”

As he neared death (March 17, 493), St. Patrick was concerned about whether the Catholic faith would remain strong in Ireland. He received a vision of all of Ireland lit up with light. An angel told him, “Such shall be the abiding splendor of divine truth in Ireland.” In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is still observed as a holy day of obligation.

If St. Patrick had not converted Ireland to Catholicism, it might have changed the course of Christian history. So many people from Ireland have spread the faith around the world.

So as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, let’s remember the religious roots of this observance and say a prayer to St. Patrick that the faith may remain strong in Ireland and all around the world. Lá fhéile Pádraig sona duit!