When, on this day, March 17, 1737, the Charitable Irish Society of Boston held a St. Patrick's Day celebration, it seems to have been the first in America. Since then, St. Patrick's Day celebrations across the United States have been full of leprechauns, the wearing of the green, and the celebration of all things Irish. In all the fun and frolic, the true Patrick (who probably died between 455 and 493) can easily be forgotten.

Dates and details in Patrick's life are not known with certainty. He was most likely born between 372 and 390, possibly near present day Glasgow, Scotland. His parents, Calpurniun and Conchessa, were leaders of the Christian community in the still unidentified village of Bannavem Taburniae. Patrick did not take the Christianity of his parents seriously and enjoyed having fun with his friends. One day, when he was sixteen, he was amusing himself near the sea when Irish pirates captured him. They sold Patrick as a slave to an Irish chieftain named Milchu. His job? To care for the chief's sheep.

Alone in the fields with the sheep, Patrick remembered the Christianity of his parents, and he accepted it as his own. He later wrote,

I was sixteen years old and knew not the true God; but in that strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes, and although late I called my sins to mind, and was converted with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who regarded my estate, had pity on my youth and ignorance, and consoled me as a father consoles his children...The love of God increased more and more in me with faith and the fear of His name. The Spirit urged me to such a degree that I poured forth as many as a hundred prayers in one day. And even during the night, in the forests and on the mountains where I kept my flock, the rain, and snow, and suffering which I endured, excited me to seek after God...

Six years later, Patrick managed to escape and returned to his family. In a dream, he saw Irish children pleading with him to bring the Gospel to them. "O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us." His heart longed to return to his former captors and share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ. He trained for the ministry and returned to Ireland where, despite fierce opposition, he spread the story of Jesus among the pagan tribes in the Irish language he had learned while a slave.

From the seventh through the ninth century, legends and myths gathered around Patrick's name. The best-known is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. From the start, he was regarded as a saint and has long been venerated as the patron saint of Ireland. His feast is held on this day, March 17.

Bibliography:

  1. Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story by Diane Severance, Ph.D. and from Glimpses #75.
  2. Moran, Patrick Francis Cardinal. "Patrick, St." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1911.
  3. "Patrick, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  4. Various internet and encyclopedia articles.

Last updated June, 2007