Saint Patrick
By Way of Introduction

Saint Patrick is perhaps the best known male saint of the Western world. All over the world you will find parishes and schools named after him. St Patrick statues are found everywhere. Many cities throughout the world host St Patrick Day processions down their main streets: the St Patrick Day procession in New York is the best known. But Irish communities around the world and those who wish they were Irish, get together in city parks and celebrate the great saint's spirit and how he has played a major role in inspiring the world with the Christian message.

On February 2nd, 1808, when Bishop Daniel Delany formally declared Saint Patrick to be the patron saint of the four men who were dedicating their lives to continue the mission of St Patrick as Brothers of Saint Patrick, he bestowed upon them a great name and a great spiritual legacy. Like Saint Patrick and as declared in his great prayer The Breastplate, the Brothers strive to see Christ in his creation and in the people to whom they have committed their lives.

There are many books and several film documentaries on Saint Patrick: Who was he? Where did he come from? What did he actually achieve in Ireland? Was there one Saint Patrick or two? Did he actually exist? Was Saint Patrick a Catholic??? The types of questions can be surprising but not the fact that there are all types of questions: Patrick lived over 1500 years ago in a land which was then primitive and illiterate. The story of Patrick is very certainly hidden in a light Irish mist.

The following information on the life of Saint Patrick has been taken from the internet at the address

Dates and Prayers

Feast Day: March 17
Born in Scotland, c. 385-390; died in Ireland c. 461.

The Breastplate of Saint Patrick
(version used by the Patrician Brothers)

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right hand, Christ on my left.
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise.
Christ in the heart of everyone
who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of everyone
who speaks to me.
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.

St. Patrick's Prayer

This day I call to me:
God's strength to direct me,
God's power to sustain me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's vision to light me,
God's ear to my hearing,
God's word to my speaking,
God's hand to uphold me,
God's pathway before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's legions to save me.

Patrick the Slave

It is unclear exactly where Patricius Magonus Sucatus (Patrick) was born--somewhere in the west between the mouth of the Severn and the Clyde--but this most popular Irish saint was probably born in Scotland of British origin, perhaps in a village called Bannavem Taberniae. (Other possibilities are in Gaul or at Kilpatrick near Dunbarton, Scotland.) His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon and a civil official, and his grandfather was a priest.

About 405, when Patrick was in his teens (14-16), he was captured by Irish raiders and became a slave in Ireland. There in Ballymena (or Slemish) in Antrim (or Mayo), Patrick first learned to pray intensely while tending his master's sheep. After six years, he was told in a dream that he should be ready for a courageous effort that would take him back to his homeland.

He ran away from his owner and travelled 200 miles to the coast. His initial request for free passage on a ship was turned down, but he prayed, and the sailors called him back. The ship on which he escaped was taking dogs to Gaul (France). At some point he returned to his family in Britain, then seems to have studied at the monastery of Lerins from 412 to 415.

Called to Ireland

He received some kind of training for the priesthood in either Britain or Gaul, possibly in Auxerre, including study of the Latin Bible, but his learning was not of a high standard, and he was to regret this always. He spent the next 15 years at Auxerre were he became a disciple of Saint Germanus of Auxerre and was possibly ordained about 417.

It is said that in visions he heard voices in the wood of Focult (Focault) or that he dreamed of Ireland and determined to return to the land of his slavery as a missionary. In that dream or vision he heard a cry from many people together and he read a writing in which this cry was name 'the voice of the Irish.'

In his Confessio Patrick writes: "It was not my grace, but God who overcometh in me, so that I came to the heathen Irish to preach the Gospel . . . to a people newly come to belief which the Lord took from the ends of the earth." St. Germanus consecrated him bishop about 432, and sent him to Ireland to succeed Saint Palladius, the first bishop, who had died earlier that year.

Spreading Christianity

There is no reliable account of his work in Ireland, where he had been a captive. Legends include the stories that he drove snakes from Ireland, and that he described the Trinity by referring to the shamrock, and that he singlehandedly--an impossible task--converted Ireland. Nevertheless, St. Patrick established the Catholic Church throughout Ireland on lasting foundations: he travelled throughout the country preaching, teaching, building churches, opening schools and monasteries, converting chiefs and bards, and everywhere supporting his preaching with miracles. (Map of Ireland shows the locations associated with St Patrick.)

At Tara in Meath he is said to have confronted King Laoghaire on Easter Eve with the Christian Gospel, kindled the light of the paschal fire on the hill of Slane, confounded the Druids into silence, and gained a hearing for himself as a man of power. He converted the king's daughters (a tale I've recounted under their entry). He threw down the idol of Crom Cruach in Leitrim. Patrick wrote that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again.

He gathered many followers, including Benignus, who would become his successor. That was one of his chief concerns, as it always is for the missionary Church: the raising up of native clergy. He wrote: "It was most needful that we should spread our nets, so that a great multitude and a throng should be taken for God.. . . Most needful that everywhere there should be clergy to baptize and exhort a people poor and needy, as the Lord in the Gospel warns and teaches, saying: Go ye therefore now, and teach all nations. And again: Go ye therefore into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. And again: This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all nations."

There was some contact with the pope. He visited Rome in 442 and 444. As the first real organizer of the Irish Church, Patrick is called the Apostle of Ireland. According to the Annals of Ulster, the Cathedral Church of Armagh was founded in 444, and the see became a center of education and administration. Patrick organized the Church into territorial sees, raised the standard of scholarship (encouraging the teaching of Latin), and worked to bring Ireland into a closer relationship with the Western Church.

Patrick's Writings

His writings show what solid doctrine he must have taught his listeners. His Confessio (his autobiography, perhaps written as an apology against his detractors), the Lorica (or Breastplate), and the "Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus," protesting British slave trading and the slaughter of a group of Irish Christians by Coroticus's raiding Christian Welshmen, are the first surely identified literature of the British Church.

What stands out in his writings is Patrick's sense of being called by God to the work he had undertaken, and his determination and modesty in carrying it out: "I, Patrick, a sinner, am the most ignorant and of least account among the faithful, despised by many. . . . I owe it to God's grace that so many people should through me be born again to him."

Stories and Symbols

Towards the end of his life, Patrick made that 'retreat' of forty days on Cruachan Aigli in Mayo from which the age-long Croagh Patrick pilgrimage derives.

Patrick may have died at Saul on Strangford Lough, Downpatrick, where he had built his first church. Glastonbury claims his alleged relics (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Bieler, Bury, Delaney, Encyclopedia, MacNeill, White).

We are told that often Patrick baptized hundreds on a single day. He would come to a place, a crowd would gather, and when he told them about the true God, the people would cry out from all sides that they wanted to become Christians. Then they would move to the nearest water to be baptized.

On such a day Aengus, a prince of Munster, was baptized. When Patrick had finished preaching, Aengus was longing with all his heart to become a Christian. The crowd surrounded the two because Aengus was such an important person. Patrick got out his book and began to look for the place of the baptismal rite but his crozier got in the way.

As you know, the bishop's crozier often has a spike at the bottom end, probably to allow the bishop to set it into the ground to free his hands. So, when Patrick fumbled searching for the right spot in the book so that he could baptize Aengus, he
absent-mindedly stuck his crosier into the ground just beside him--and accidentally through the foot of poor Aengus!

Patrick, concentrating on the sacrament, never noticed what he had done and proceeded with the baptism. The prince never cried out, nor moaned; he simply went very white. Patrick poured water over his bowed head at the simple words of the rite.Then it was completed. Aengus was a Christian. Patrick turned to take up his crozier and was horrified to find that he had driven it through the prince's foot!

"But why didn't you say something? This is terrible. Your foot is bleeding and you'll be lame. . . ." Poor Patrick was very unhappy to have hurt another.

Then Aengus said in a low voice that he thought having a spike driven through his foot was part of the ceremony. He added something that must have brought joy to the whole court of heaven and blessings on Ireland:

"Christ," he said slowly, "shed His blood for me, and I am glad to suffer a little pain at baptism to be like Our Lord" (Curtayne).

In art, St. Patrick is represented as a bishop driving snakes before him or trampling upon them. At times he may be shown (1) preaching with a serpent around the foot of his pastoral staff; (2) holding a shamrock; (3) with a fire before him; or (4) with a pen and book, devils at his feet, and seraphim above him (Roeder, White). He is patron of Nigeria (which was evangelized primarily by Irish clergy) and of Ireland and especially venerated at Lerins (Roeder, White).

St Patrick Prayer Services

St Patrick's Litany
St Patrick's Prayer Services
St Patrick's Prayer - Proclaim God’s Love greenarrow

Happy to receive your St Patrick's prayer service so we can share it with others. Just email to it can be either in 'doc' format or as a pdf. We will acknowledge your contribution.

We also have a PowerPoint and a DVD presentation based on the Breastplate. This uses the Shaun Davey musical version of "The Deers Cry" which contains the Breastplate. Let us know on the email address above if you are interested.

St Patrick Videos