Valdosta Daily Times

March 17, 2014

Meet the saint behind the day

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — There are more than 10,000 saints but very few resonate with the general public. St. Nicholas whose name breaks down to Santa Claus. The possibly two St. Valentines. And St. Patrick, whom many folks will celebrate today by wearing green, watching John Wayne in “The Quiet Man,” singing “Danny Boy,” hoisting a green beer, and bearing catch-phrases such as “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”

Even the catholic.org website refers to St. Patrick, who is the patron saint of Ireland, as “one of the world’s most popular saints.”

The old story goes that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. The Catholic Church offers a more compelling story.

The man who would become the apostle of Ireland was born in 387 at Kilpatrick near Dumbarton, Scotland. He was the son of Calpurnius and Conchessa, Romans charged with the care of the British colonies.

As a young teen, a raiding party captured Patrick and took him to Ireland as a slave. There, he herded sheep. Nature-worshipping druids and pagans lived in Ireland. Patrick learned their ways and how to speak their tongue.

As a slave, he prayed to God.

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same,” Patrick wrote, according to www.catholic.org. “I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”

Inspired by a dream, Patrick escaped slavery at the age of 20. In the dream, God told him to flee to the shore and depart Ireland. Seaside, he found sailors who returned him to his family in Britain.

Safe, at home, Patrick dreamed again. The Irish people wanted him back. “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

Patrick became a priest. He became a bishop and was sent to Ireland.

“He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane,” according to the website. “One legend says that he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly to Patrick.”

Patrick preached throughout Ireland. He converted the Irish to the faith. These converts preached, too, and converted thousands. They built churches throughout the country. Upon hearing Patrick speak, entire kingdoms converted.

Within 40 years, he had converted all of Ireland to Christianity.

“He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for God in Confessions. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461.”

So, in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrate the anniversary of the bishop’s passing.

The most famous story of St. Patrick is the tale of his driving the snakes from Ireland into the sea. While the Catholic website displays a painting of St. Patrick and snakes, it makes no mention of this event in his biography.

While there are no snakes in Ireland, St. Patrick banishing the snakes is believed to be legend. The snakes are more likely a metaphor. Snakes were reportedly sacred to the druids; by converting Ireland to Christianity, St. Patrick banished paganism from the island.

As for why shamrocks are seen throughout this day, another legend claims Patrick used these clovers to explain the Holy Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost as being three parts belonging to one, according to irish-genealogy-toolkit.com

While there are many legends about St. Patrick, including ones such as transforming himself and a companion into deer to escape a marauder’s notice, he is not believed to have turned beer green. Many pubs will perform this transformation tonight. On the Internet almost everyone, even Pillsbury, offers instructions on how to make green beer.

For some reason, as a society, we have grown to include drinking and extracurricular magical characters with most of our holidays. St. Patrick’s Day is no different. It is associated with the leprechaun and his hoarded pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in popular imagery.

As for why people wear green, it is likely because of the abundance of clovers, Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle, and the Irish flag includes green.