Saint Patrick

My son loves holidays, something that shouldn’t be surprising to hear. He is, after all, five. So one day, he looks at me and asks “who is Saint Patrick?” I start trying to formulate an answer, and he hits me with more questions before I can respond: “What are his colors? Is he short?”

“What?” I ask, now feeling slightly baffled.

“Why does he get money?”

It takes me a moment to get up to speed. My son, it turns out, thinks Saint Patrick is a leprechaun. And that makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. At least, it does if all you really know about Saint Patrick’s Day is shamrocks and leprechauns and the color green, that is.

To be honest, I don’t know much more than that. Oh, sure, I know there was a historical figure named “Patrick”, and I think he’s the one that brought Christianity to Ireland. Maybe? And he’s said to have driven all of the snakes from Ireland. So, to be honest, I know nothing about him at all.

Who is Saint Patrick?

St Patrick Shamrock Image

Interestingly enough, it turns out that Patrick wrote a memoir, called – in a straight-forward fashion – Confessio. A lot of the Confessio appears to be concerned with his feelings of unworthiness as a sinner, but there are some biographical details. It begins:

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae[Nota]. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.

He goes on to describe how, once he was taken to Ireland, he was a shepherd for six years. He escaped, fled some two hundred miles, and escaped on a boat. Then, “It happened again after many years that I was taken a prisoner.” He doesn’t say a whole lot about that, other than to say that he was a prisoner for 60 days. Finally, he made it home to Bannavem Taburniae, but started having dreams of returning to Ireland once more (presumably not as a slave, though).

The Confessio is, frankly, quite terrible at providing chronological details. For example, Patrick mentions being a Bishop, but gives no context for when that happened. Also, he gives nothing resembling a date for any of these events – the “Notes on the Translation”, however, state that “his arrival in Ireland is often dated as 432, and his death occurring in 461.” His Confessio does, however, verify that he returned to Ireland as a missionary.

Interestingly enough, Patrick was never canonized. According to the “Ask a Fransiscan”:

St. Patrick died around 461 A.D. The first saint formally canonized by the pope—for which we have a record, anyway—was St. Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg, Germany, in the year 993.

For most of Christianity’s first 1,000 years, canonizations were done on the diocesan or regional level. Relatively soon after very holy people died, the local Church affirmed that they could be liturgically celebrated as saints.

That was the case with St. Patrick, whose feast has not been dropped from the Church’s universal calendar. Because it usually falls on a weekday during Lent, the opening prayer at Mass can be for St. Patrick, but everything else comes from the Lenten weekday prayers.

If St. Patrick is the patron of a diocese or a parish, the feast can be celebrated with greater solemnity. If March 17 falls on a Sunday, the feast is not observed liturgically that year. Patrick’s admirers find many other ways to celebrate!

What was Patrick the saint of?

According to AmericanCatholic.org, Patrick is the Patron Saint of engineers, Ireland, and Nigeria. Which leads to two questions: why engineers, and why Nigeria?

  • Catholic-Saints.info says that he’s the Patron Saint of engineers because he “introduced some elements of Roman Technology to Ireland and was responsible for the initial construction of clay churches, featuring arches.”
  • As far as Nigeria is concerned, the New World Encyclopedia says that “Nigeria was evangelized primarily by Irish missionaries and priests from Saint Patrick’s Missionary Society known as the Kiltegan Missionaries.”

Are there colors associated with him??

Green, and sometimes red, are the colors associated with Saint Patrick’s iconography in the Middle Ages and later. Specifically, these were the colors associated with his chausable. Clearly, in modern times, he’s far more associated with green than red.

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