Every year on March 17 millions of people around the world celebrate St. Patrick's Day with parades, parties, and the color green. But who was the man who inspired these traditions and why do we still celebrate him today?
Who Was St. Patrick?
Although there is scholarly disagreement on the exact date (and even the year) of St. Patrick's birth, the traditionally accepted consensus is that St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat in the Roman colony of Britain around AD 387 to middle-class Christian parents. At the age of 16, Maewyn was kidnapped by pirates and carried off to Ireland where he was sold into slavery. In Ireland he learned a new language and the culture of the Druids. At that time in Irish history, Ireland was a dark nation where the religion of the Druids reigned. This pagan religion involved worshipping nature, violence, and even human sacrifice.
When young Maewyn was kidnapped, he was not a Christian but was essentially an atheist. However, his father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest, so Maewyn had heard the truth as a boy. During the long, cold, and lonely days and nights caring for his master’s sheep in the Irish countryside, Maewyn began to pray. Soon he had developed a relationship with the triune God of Scripture and was praying nearly 100 times during the day and night. After six years of slavery, he claims he was told in a vision that a ship was ready to take him home. He hiked 200 miles to the coast, boarded a ship, and eventually returned home.
Back in Britain, Maewyn claimed to have received a vision in which he heard the people of Ireland saying, "We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us." After studying for the priesthood, being ordained a bishop, and changing his name to Patrick, he headed back to the nation of his slavery to be a missionary among the Irish.
St. Patrick was tremendously effective and saw many pagans turn to put their faith in Christ. Despite how his extant writings testify to how much he missed his homeland, he chose to live and serve among the Irish he grew to love. He even suffered imprisonment and persecution at the hands of the Druids. But his dedicated and tireless evangelistic efforts, according to tradition, resulted in his baptizing 120,000 new believers and building over 300 churches in Ireland. He served and worked among the people for 30 years before he died on March 17, 461, and was buried in Ireland.