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Who Was Saint Patrick?

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Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock (clover commonly found in Ireland) to teach the Irish people about the Trinity (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

Kristin Duvall / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Name:

Saint Patrick

Lifetime:

385 in the British part of the Roman Empire - 461 in Ireland

Feast Day:

March 17th

Patron Saint Of:

Engineers; paralegals; Ireland; Spain; Nigeria; Montserrat; Boston; and the Roman Catholic archdioceses of New York City and Melbourne, Australia

Famous Miracles:

Patrick is linked to numerous different kinds of miracles that people say God performed through him during Patrick's more than 30 years of serving the Irish people. Among the most famous were:

Using a Shamrock with Miraculous Results

Patrick had miraculous success bringing Christianity to the people of Ireland. Before Patrick began his mission to share the Gospel message with the Irish people, many of them were practicing pagan religious rituals and struggled to understand how God could be one living spirit in three persons (the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit). So Patrick used shamrock plants (clover that commonly grows in Ireland) as a visual aid. He explained that just as the shamrock has one stem but three leaves (four-leaf clovers are the exception), God was one spirit who expressed himself in three ways.

Patrick recorded baptizing many thousands of people after they came to understand God's love for them through the Gospel message and chose to become Christians. His efforts to share his faith with people also led to many men becoming priests and women becoming nuns.

Food for Hungry Sailors

When Patrick was traveling with some sailors on land after they docked their ship in Britain, they had trouble finding enough to eat while crossing through a desolate area of land. The captain of the ship on which Patrick had sailed asked Patrick to pray for the group to find food, since Patrick had told him that God was all-powerful. Patrick told the captain that nothing was impossible for God, and he prayed for food right away.

Miraculously, a herd of pigs appeared after Patrick finished praying, in front of where the group of men was standing. The sailors caught and killed the pigs so they could eat, and that food sustained them until they were able to leave the area and find more food.

Raising People From the Dead

Few miracles are more dramatic than bringing dead people back to life again, and Patrick was credited with having done so for 33 different people! In the 12th century book The Life and Acts of Saint Patrick: The Archbishop, Primate and Apostle of Ireland a Cistercian monk named Jocelin wrote: "Thirty and three dead men, some of whom had been many years buried, did this great reviver raise from the dead."

Patrick himself wrote in a letter about the resurrection miracles that God performed through him: "The Lord has given to me, though humble, the power of working miracles among a barbarous people, such as are not recorded to have been worked by the great apostles; inasmuch as, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I have raised from the dead bodies that have been buried many years; but I beseech you, let no one believe that for these or the like works I am to be at all equaled to the apostles, or with any perfect man, since I am humble, and a sinner, and worthy only to be despised."

Historical accounts say that Patrick's resurrection miracles were witnessed by people who came to believe what he said about God after seeing God's power at work -- leading to many conversions to Christianity. But to those who weren't present and had trouble believing that such dramatic miracles could occur, Patrick wrote: "And let those who will, laugh and scorn, I shall not be silent; nor shall I hide the signs and wonders which the Lord has shown me."

Biography:

Patrick was born to a loving family in the British part of the ancient Roman Empire (probably in modern Wales) in 385 AD. His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman official who also served as a deacon in his local church. Patrick's life was fairly peaceful until age 16, when a dramatic event changed his life significantly.

A group of Irish raiders kidnapped many young men -- including 16-year-old Patrick -- and took them by ship to Ireland to be sold into slavery. After Patrick arrived in Ireland, he went to work as a slave for an Irish chieftain named Milcho, herding sheep and cattle on Slemish Mountain, which is located in County Antrim of modern Northern Ireland. Patrick worked in that capacity for six years, and drew strength from the time he often spent praying. He wrote: "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. ...I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

Then, one day, Patrick's guardian angel, Victor, appeared to him in human form, manifesting suddenly through the air while Patrick was outside. Victor told Patrick: "It is good that you've been fasting and praying. You will soon go to your own country; your ship is ready."

Victor then gave Patrick guidance about how to begin his 200 mile-journey to the Irish Sea to find the ship that would take him back to Britain. Patrick did successfully escape slavery and reunite with his family, thanks to Victor’s guidance along the way.

After Patrick had enjoyed several comfortable years with his family, Victor communicated with Patrick through a dream. Victor showed Patrick a dramatic vision that made Patrick realize that God was calling him to return to Ireland to preach the Gospel message there.

Patrick recorded in one of his letters: "And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents, and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go anywhere else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw the man whose name was Victor coming from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: 'The Voice of the Irish,' and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.' And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry."

Patrick believed that God had called him to return to Ireland to help the pagan people there by telling them the Gospel (which means "good news") message and helping them connect with God through relationships with Jesus Christ. So he left his comfortable life with his family behind and sailed to Gaul (which is now France) to study to become a priest in the Catholic Church. After he was appointed a bishop, he set out for Ireland to help as many people as possible in the island nation where he had been enslaved years before.

It wasn't easy for Patrick to accomplish his mission. Some of the pagan people persecuted him, temporarily imprisoned him, and even tried to kill him several times. But Patrick traveled all throughout Ireland to share the Gospel message with people, and many people came to faith in Christ after hearing what Patrick had to say. For more than 30 years, Patrick served the people of Ireland, proclaiming the Gospel, helping the poor, and encouraging others to follow his example of faith and love in action. He was miraculously successful: Ireland became a Christian nation as a result.

On March 17th, 461, Patrick died. The Catholic Church officially recognized him as a saint soon afterward, and set his feast day for the day of his death, so Saint Patrick's Day has been celebrated on March 17th ever since. Now people throughout the world wear green (the color associated with Ireland) to remember Saint Patrick on March 17th, and some celebrate by praying and singing praises to God for working through Patrick's life.

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