March - What you don’t know about St. Patrick

March 2008

Leprechauns, four leaf clovers, and donning something green… that’s the traditional St. Patrick's Day celebration I grew up with. Learning the true story behind St. Patrick’s Day was not quite what I expected. St. Patrick was not a fictional leprechaun, nor did he wear a little green hat or chase pots of gold at the end of rainbows. That may not come as a huge surprise, but did you know St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish? The historical story of Patrick may not be widely known, but it is extraordinary, and he poured his life out for God’s purposes changing the course of Ireland’s history.

In the 5th century, Patrick was born into a Christian family on the island of modern day Britain. However, his personal faith in Christ didn’t mature until his teens and only through extremely difficult circumstances. At age 15, Irish raiders kidnapped him and forced him into slavery in Ireland. The Celtic people of Ireland were well known as savage, animistic people. Yet it was in this spiritual atmosphere that Jesus Christ became the Lord of Patrick’s life. For six years, Patrick tended sheep for his master and spent hours on the Irish hillsides with God. One day, Patrick sensed a voice telling him that a ship was waiting to take him home. Remarkably, he escaped toward the coast and boarded a ship that sailed to his homeland.
Back home and a free man, Patrick joined the clergy and spent years in a monastery. In what some compare to the Apostle Paul’s “Macedonian call”, Patrick recorded having the following vision:

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us." 1

God called Patrick to return to Ireland and bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Celts. Patrick was convinced of his calling, but spent many years studying in preparation. He was in his forties when he stepped back onto the soil where he lived in captivity as a young man.

The Celts were stubbornly resistant to the gospel, and Patrick was not well received at first. Being familiar with the culture, Patrick became as “Celtic” as possible without contradicting his devotion to Christ. As Paul was all things to all men, Patrick became Celtic to win the Celts, yet still faced death threats and kidnapping. Patrick himself said, “If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me.” As Patrick labored for God, the truth of the gospel slowly penetrated hardened hearts, and the seeds of the church took root across Ireland.

This St. Patrick’s Day let us take time to remember the sacrifice and suffering of Patrick, the power God displayed through one surrendered life, and billions who still have yet to hear the good news. Patrick was a simple man used for extraordinary work. What can God do with your surrendered life?

For more info on St. Patrick, check out these resources:

Tucker, Ruth. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biological History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids:

Bercot, David W. Let Me Die in Ireland, The True Story of Patrick. Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing, 1999.

1 De Paor, Liam. Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age. Dublin: Four Courts, 1993.