It’s true. Saint Patrick has never been formally canonized. The process for canonization was not in place to allow a formal vetting of him. Even so, by Tradition he is recognized as a Saint and is on the liturgical calendar. But his use of the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity of God was taught to me by my grade school Sister teachers – as trustworthy to me then as if from the Bible itself. But the experts say it could be just a legend. Huh.
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. I remember the Sisters teaching us he was a missionary: missionaries “go out.” There’s not much claim that he was Irish, so therefore, of course: green rivers, green beer, the wearin’ o’ the green, and all that, celebrate the Irish who were converted by St. Patrick, not ‘isself the bishop!
He had been taken a slave when he was young from what is now Dumbarton, Scotland, by invaders from Ireland. (OMG! He was Scottish!) For six years he slaved as a sheepherder, spending long hours alone discovering who he was, thinking, and examining his faith. He eventually escaped and made it back home. He became a Catholic, studied to become a priest, and was anointed a bishop. He returned to Ireland as a missionary, but not the first. The missionary Palladius had been sent there about five years before St. Patrick returned, but he had not been all that successful.
St. Patrick was very successful. He was confident in his call by God to evangelize the Irish. And he had a different approach. He knew the clan hierarchy in Ireland from his years there as a slave. If he could first convert the influential chieftain of a clan, the clan would follow in conversion much more readily. Although it sounds cynical, he truly loved the Irish. He traveled around Ireland converting many people and building churches as he went along. He gave to the heathen and violent Ireland a spiritual character that lasts to this day.
St. Patrick is so surrounded by legend and exaggeration that it is hard to tell anymore what is true. He lived and died in the fifth century. He converted much of Ireland and wrote us a book, The Confession of St. Patrick. It’s an declaration, or “confession” of his faith (theologically) in which he included some information about himself and his life.
I think a lot of people live holy lives who are neither priests, bishops, monks, sisters, missionaries, nor capital “S” Saints. These people are not distracted by their society or culture. They are focused on what God wants of them. With this vision, or focus, they follow the call of Jesus to bring love, hope, and faith to fellow/sister souls. They convert people by their own love, hope, and faith as well as by their great joy and generosity of spirit.
St. Patrick information comes from:
—http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2004/stpatricks.html, “The Real St. Patrick” by Ted Olson, 2008;
—http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Mar1997/feature1.asp, “The St. Patrick You Never Knew” by Anita McSorley;
—http:/www.the1thing.com/blog/applying-the-one-thing/st-patricks-one-thing, “St. Patrick’s One Thing” by The One Thing Team;
—and my grade school teachers who were Catholic Sisters.