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March 9, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Saint Patrick of Ireland was not born in Ireland but in England around 385 AD.  His father was Calphurnius, a Christian deacon from a Roman family of some social standing.  His mother was a relative of Saint Martin of Tours and his grandfather was a member of the Christian clergy.  In spite of this Patrick was not raised in a particularly religious home, nor was education much stressed in his childhood.

At the age of sixteen Patrick was snatched from England by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland.  His master in Ireland was a high priest of the Druids named Milchu whom he served as a shepherd for six years.  During his years keeping the flocks he spent much time in prayer and a passion for converting the Irish from their pagan practices began to grow in his heart and mind.  In about the year 408 he escaped to the coast and convinced some sailors to allow him to board and sail toward home.   When the ship hit the French coast in about three days the crew abandoned ship and Patrick wandered lost for twenty-eight days.  After a wilderness journey of some two hundred miles he finally found his way back to England and home.

Following a period of study that lasted some fifteen years Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary.  He seems to have carried the title of Bishop, but it is unclear as to who consecrated him.  It is most likely that he was not part of the Latin Church, but of the early Celtic Christian Communion.  His life story is often confused with that of a later missionary named Palladius who was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine I to prevent the establishment of the Pelagian heresy in Ireland.   Patrick seems to have gone to an Ireland that was completely pagan.  He was the first to introduce Christianity to the Druids.  Upon his arrival in Ireland he met a local chieftain named Dichu, whom he converted to Christianity.  Dichu gave him a barn as his first church.  The place where he landed was at the mouth of the River Slaney near Saul.  The present Church of Ireland church at Saul is two miles from Down Cathedral where Patrick is buried.  The Church of Ireland is a Province of the Anglican Communion.

Patrick has been honored by much of Christendom, although he was never canonized as a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.   Perhaps this is because Patrick belongs to all of Christianity.  He went where no Christian had gone before and changed the world.

Patrick died in about 461 at Saul on March 17.  It is a tragedy that the heroic nature of this great man with a great faith is often lost in the trivializing of Saint Patrice’s Day.

Two authentic writings of Saint Patrick survive; the CONFESSIONS and LETTER TO THE SOLDIER CROTICUS.  Reading these would be a healthy accompaniment to attending a parade.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END -whs