I am sure that all readers of The Interim are aware that on March 17, we celebrated the feast of St. Patrick. But it occurred to me that many people may not be aware of the history of St. Patrick. So, I thought it might be useful if I give a summary of his life and activities.
St. Patrick, the apostle and patron of Ireland, was born in England in the year 389 AD. His father, who was from France, held an important political position in England and owned an estate there.
When Patrick was 16 years of age, he was captured by raiders and sold as a slave to an Irish farmer. Ireland at that time was not even Christian. Patrick had been baptized a Catholic, but the family was not particularly fervent in their practice of Catholicism. He was taken to Ireland, where he was sold to an Irish farmer. His principal occupation as a slave was to herd the flock of sheep each and every night often in the coldest weather. His master was a very cruel man who treated him as a slave in the worst sense of the word. But, the experience of herding the sheep at night had an extraordinary effect on Patrick’s conception of God. Studying the stars and the moon at night, and the rising of the sun in the morning, made him realize the importance of God. He began to pray and offer his sufferings to God and accept them in repentance for his past life.
Then, something happened that changed Patrick’s and Ireland’s future. One night, he fell asleep in the field and in a dream, he heard a voice telling him that his boat was waiting for him at a certain port some 200 miles from where he was and that he should go there as soon as possible. At this time, he had spent six years as a slave. According to tradition, he left immediately and walked the 200 miles. He had spent six years as a slave and was very pleased to have a good reason for escaping. When he found that the ship that could take him to Europe, he had some trouble with the captain about taking him, but eventually he succeeded and escaped to Europe.
I do not have enough space to give you an account of all his history in Europe. But, he became a priest and worked in France for some time. The pope made him a bishop and appointed him to Ireland. There, in spite of a great deal of opposition from the Druids, he walked the length and breadth of Ireland, preaching the Gospel. He was a wonderful preacher and everywhere he visited, he drew thousands of the Irish, who were just beginning to accept Christianity.
Patrick came to Ireland as a priest and missionary in the year 432 and died there in 461. In those 29 years, he had converted the Irish to Catholicism and the Irish have done their part in spreading the faith to much of the world.
On St. Patrick’s Day, there was the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. The church was packed with no standing room. There were more priests in the sanctuary than I can ever remember and the principal celebrant, Bishop Boissonneau, preached an eloquent sermon on St. Patrick.
All this was in honour of a slave boy who lived in Ireland 1,545 years ago.