Christian Missionaries Throughout History: Saint Patrick

August 14, 2017

In the third installment of this series (after Alopen and Ramon Llull), we take a look at Saint Patrick. Everyone has heard of St. Patrick’s Day, but how much do you know about him and his history?

You might think that Saint Patrick is Irish, but he was actually born and raised in England during the 4th Century. Patrick’s father was a political official and a deacon and his grandfather was a Celtic priest, so Patrick was raised in the Christian faith but did not adhere to it very closely as a youth.

Early one morning, teenage Patrick and his friends were playing on the beach before everyone went out to work when Irish pirates landed and kidnapped Patrick and his friends. The pirates then took them to Ireland and sold them into slavery. Patrick was sold to a man named Milchu and was ordered to look after his sheep and pigs. It was during these difficult times on the cold and windy hills of Ireland that Patrick began to turn to God in prayer for help.

Patrick spent six years in slavery, learning to speak the Celtic language of the Irish and becoming an excellent shepherd and sheepdog handler over the course of his time watching over Milchu’s animals. After six years, Patrick finally escaped slavery and braved possible torture and death if captured to attempt to return home to England. When he arrived at the Irish coast, he found a group of sailors about to leave on their ship. After at first rejecting his pleas to join them, they finally agreed to let him sail with them after seeing how good and helpful he was with their wild sheepdogs.

Upon his return home, Patrick discovered that his father had passed away. Nevertheless, Patrick was glad to finally be home and start his life anew. However, one night, he had a dream that the people of Ireland were begging for him to return, that they were suffering because they didn’t share his belief in Jesus. Patrick believed that this dream was very similar to the Apostle Paul’s dream in Acts 16:9 where Paul saw a Macedonian man begging for his help.

Patrick then went to what is now France to study at the church of Auxerre to prepare for his mission to Ireland. Due to his past history as a slave, Patrick was not what you would call an academic. The priests at Auxerre did not think he was fit to be a missionary in Ireland and sent someone else, a monk named Palladius, instead. Palladius was unsuccessful in converting the hostile Irish and returned after only a brief stint in Ireland.

After finally becoming an ordained priest, Patrick left for Ireland. The Celtic Druids were the powerful and established religion in Ireland at the time and were not open to new faiths. He narrowly avoided death on many occasions upon his arrival but began to spread the Gospel and was blessed with much success all across Ireland. He even managed to convert powerful Irish chieftains to his side through the message of Jesus and the Gospel.

After some time, Patrick wished to visit and share the Gospel message with his old master, Milchu, and set off to meet him. Milchu caught word that Patrick, now a powerful Irish leader of importance, was coming to visit him and feared the worst. Thinking Patrick was going to kill him for his time as a slave, Milchu burned his house and farm to the ground and took his own life in the process. When Patrick arrived, all that was left was smoking ruins.

Over the course of his work in Ireland, Patrick founded over 200 churches. Eventually, nearly the whole island of Ireland became Christian. After fleeing Ireland for his life as a slave, upon his return to Ireland, Patrick never left again and died there as an old man. Saint Patrick had a tremendous impact on Irish history, which is evident in the importance of St. Patrick’s Day to the people of Ireland.