When I was just a little kid in elementary school, the only thing I knew about St. Patrick was that there was a day when we had to wear green or we’d get pinched by our classmates. I always thought that was a bit unfair since my small wardrobe contained no green shades and I’m not Irish, anyway.
But in 7th grade European History class, I chose to write a paper on the real St. Patrick. Here’s what I found:
He’s not a saint with a capital S. The Roman Catholic church never canonized him.
He’s not Irish. He was born in Scotland to a middle class family. Both his father and grandfather were prominent in the Christian faith. But not Patrick.
At the age of about 16, he was taken captive by Irish pirates and sold to an Irish king.
The king sent him out as a slave to herd sheep. This was a lonely, often dangerous job with no shelter or food. Patrick had to fend for himself. To deal with his loneliness and fear, he remembered the Christian God that his father worshiped.
Patrick eventually converted to Christianity. In his early twenties, a message from God encouraged him to flee his master and Ireland and try to get back to his family.
Patrick escaped back to Britain. He studied the Christian faith in a monastery. Thirty years later, he felt a call to go back to Ireland and spread the gospel.
The Irish people of that time were pagan, war-like, and hostile. Patrick faced death many times.
Patrick was pretty savvy about evangelism. He targeted royalty and the rich, figuring that when they converted it would be easier to lead the lower classes to faith in Jesus.
There was an earlier evangelist named Palladius, but he wasn’t quite as successful as Patrick. Patrick eventually became the bishop of Armugh.
Patrick used the formerly pagan symbol—the shamrock—to teach the concept of the trinity.
There are many stories about Patrick and it’s difficult, almost sixteen hundred years later to sort out myth from reality. But the Irish have good reason to celebrate the life of this bold and passionate evangelist, Patrick.
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.'” (Mark 16:15 NIV Bible)