St. Patrick, the Man and the Mission

Féile gliondarach, áthasach, shona atá i gceist agus muid ag ceiliúradh Naomh Pádraig, Pádraig mór na hÉireann ’chuile bhliain ar an 17ú lá de Mhárta.  I bhfad is i gcéin – lá mór atá i gceist, Éireannaigh fíor-bhródúil as ucht an oidhreacht ársa bheannaithe atá againn.


In parades around this Emerald Isle images and effigies of St. Patrick will abound in various shapes and forms.  Many will dress elaborately in colourful episcopal vestments.  Varying shades of green robes, long beards, crozier-wielding, tall mitres, shamrock wearing, dispensing blessings and papal like waves from floats and all sorts of eye catching modes of transport.   Some will move imposingly on the street, entertaining the expectant audience and great crowds who will adorn the well decorated festive streets.

But what do we know about the real St. Patrick?  Since introducing the Bank Holiday for St. Brigid and this year with her significant jubilee 1500 there have been serious efforts to reconstruct the authentic Brigid?  Was she a Celtic Goddess and or a Christian Saint?  Many claims have been made in the effort to revise the historical narrative.  Similar quests to rebrand our primary national patron have not yet materialised!

How can we get to view and experience the real St. Patrick?  How can we distinguish the man of faith from the figure of legend, cult and mystery?  With a view to making an effort to do this I made my annual pilgrimage to read afresh St. Patrick’s two pieces of writing that still exist, his Letter to Coroticus and his Confessions.  Both are very short works and readable in a few hours.  Both texts are of a very specific genre or type and are of course of the time, but the manage to capture and convey the sense of the man:

  • the spirit of the individual that Patrick was,
  • his love of Ireland, the countryside, the people of Ireland,
  • his persistence and perseverance in the face of adversity, captivity, exile, slavery, hardship, betrayal by people close to him,
  • his dedication to prayer, penance,
  • love of the sacred scriptures,
  • love of Jesus Christ and the blessed Trinity,
  • Longing for unity with God.

Overall there is a great sense of him being on fire with energy and enthusiasm and persistence in proclaiming, sharing and living the faith.  I love the passage in the Confessions that runs:

After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.

Many have compared his energy with that of St. Paul, who despite so many challenges and set-back never gave up or took the foot off the pedal.  What a great role model he is for us to look up to in spiritual terms!

During these Synodal Pathway times of walking the pilgrim path together, focusing on Communion, Participation and Mission along with Expanding the Space under the Tent, we pray for a renewed and revived sense of all that through the lens of these great Patricianideals.  This in particular in relation to our mission in sharing and in living our faith that is such a treasure to us all, since the time when Ireland truly was the Island of the Saints and Scholars.

I enjoy the work of the scholar, Malcolm Guite.  He’s an Anglican Pastor and a prolific writer, with a great interest and expertise in literature and more than a passing interest in saints of the Irish Tradition.  He composed a recent work entitled: “A Sonnet for St. Patrick” and it runs:

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,

Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!

Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,

With open love to your old enemies,

Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,

Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.

You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins

Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,

Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,

Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,

And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:

A gospel seed that flowers in belief,

A greening glory, coming into leaf.

Dóchas linn, Naomh Pádraig, Aspal mór na hÉireann! Beannachtaí na féile Pádraig ort ar an lá mór agus gura seacht fearr a bheas muid bliain ón lá inniu!


Fintan Monahan is Bishop of Killaloe

Clare Champion Article March 15th 2024

Stain Glass window from the Church of St. Michael, Aglish, Borrisokane Parish