Patrick (Late fifth century-461) is known as the Apostle of Ireland. Patrick was not the first missionary to Ireland, (he was preceded by Palladius) but he is the most influential Christian in the history of Ireland. Most of the bibliographical details of his life are known from his book, Confessions.
Patrick was born into a Christian family on the west coast of Great Britain (either Scotland or Wales). His father was a deacon in the Catholic church. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was captured by a raiding party of “Picts” who came like pirates on boats to loot villages near the coast line. He was taken to Ireland as a slave and sold to a man named Milchu. He was forced to care for his master’s sheep on the slopes of the Slemish Mountains.
For six years, he spent many cold and lonely nights with the sheep guarding them from wolves and bears. His only comfort was prayer. One night, God gave him a vision of a ship that was leaving Ireland. He took the vision as a sign from God and managed to escape his captors and board a ship that took him home to the joyful embrace of his family. A short time later, he became a priest and learned Latin and French.
During his time as a slave, he developed a close relationship with God and cultivated a dedication to prayer. He also learned the language and the culture of the Irish. After he escaped, he often prayed for the Irish people to be converted to Christianity.
In his book, he shares the story of a vision God gave him. He writes, “I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
Because of this vision, Patrick asked to be sent to Ireland. At first it was hard, but a fire burned in Patrick’s heart. He went from village to village in Ireland preaching the Gospel and baptizing new believers. His strategy was to convert the chief of each clan first, who would then use their influence to lead the whole clan to Christ. One of his first converts was his former master, Milchu. In each place where he found converts, he appointed deacons and established monasteries.
Patrick was effective because he contextualized the Gospel message for Irish culture instead of trying to force the Irish Christians to adopt the cultural practices of the Romans. Another reason his ministry was effective was because the Celtic Christians evangelized as a team by planting a monastery or church and living among the people they were trying to reach with the Gospel.
Legend says that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland which is probably a myth but he did drive the devil from the island with his Gospel work. Patrick is also known for using the three-leaf Shamrock to illustrate the Trinity. The pagans and Druids of Ireland worshiped the sun and the moon, so he invented the Celtic Cross, which has a circle around the cross of Christ. Patrick died in Armaugh in 461 A.D. after spending 29 years as the Archbishop of Ireland.
Quotes from St. Patrick
I pray to God to give me perseverance and to deign that I be a faithful witness to Him to the end of my life for my God.
Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me.
If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me.
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.