March 17: Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland, 461

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Patrick was born into a Christian family somewhere on the northwest coast of Britain in about 390. His grandfather had been a Christian priest and his father, Calpornius, a deacon. Calpornius was an important official in the late Roman imperial government of Britain. It was not unusual in this post-Constantinian period for such state officials to be in holy orders. When Patrick was about sixteen, he was captured by a band of Irish slave-raiders. He was carried off to Ireland and forced to serve as a shepherd. When he was about twenty-one, he escaped and returned to Britain, where he was educated as a Christian. He tells us that he took holy orders as both presbyter and bishop, although no particular see is known as his at this time. A vision then called him to return to Ireland. This he did about the year 431.

Tradition holds that Patrick landed not far from the place of his earlier captivity, near what is now known as Downpatrick (a “down” or “dun” is a fortified hill, the stronghold of a local Irish king). He then began a remarkable process of missionary conversion throughout the country that continued until his death, probably in 461. He made his appeal to the local kings and through them to their tribes. Christianizing the old pagan religion as he went, Patrick erected Christian churches over sites already regarded as sacred, had crosses carved on old druidic pillars, and put sacred wells and springs under the protection of Christian saints.

Many legends of Patrick’s Irish missionary travels possess substrata of truth, especially those telling of his conversion of the three major Irish High Kings. At Armagh, he is said to have established his principal church. To this day, Armagh is regarded as the primatial see of all Ireland.

Two works are attributed to Patrick: an autobiographical Confession, in which he tells us, among other things, that he was criticized by his contemporaries for lack of learning, and a Letter to Coroticus, a British chieftain. The Lorica or St. Patrick’s Breastplate (“I bind unto myself today”) is probably not his, but it expresses his faith and zeal.


I     Almighty God, who in thy providence didst choose thy servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of thee: Grant us so to walk in that light that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II     Almighty God, in your providence you chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Ezekiel 36: 33-38

1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12

Matthew 28:16-20

Psalm 97:1-2, 7-12

Preface of Apostles

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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11 thoughts on “March 17: Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland, 461

  1. The new Hebrew reading seems to fit very well.

    Bio. Although all the world knows the legend … all the more important that he have a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement.

  2. In the bio, the phrases ‘born into a Christian family’ and, much later, ‘educated as a Christian’, seem to contradict the information given about Patrick in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. The ODCC says that he was well educated in the tenets of Christianity by the time he got to Ireland, and that the education he received once he was back in England was for the purposes of ordination. It would be good to clear this up. Generally speaking, I think the ODCC would be considered pretty reliable.

    In the collect, the phrase ‘in Your providence’ doesn’t seem an appropriate introduction to the idea of God’s choosing. If the collect went on to speak of Patrick being brought to Ireland, it would fit, but it doesn’t. I think the simple ‘You chose Your servant Patrick’ says all that’s needed. And the ‘true light and knowledge of You’ is spoken of as though it were different from ‘the light of everlasting life’, which I suggest is misleading.

  3. This is a good commemoration for which I am thankful. I suspect a lot of people think St Patrick was the patron saint of green beer and that’s all, but anyone who uses HWHM (LFF) will know better.

    The one thing I question is the threefold (naturally!) use of “light” in the collect. First, I’m not sure if it alludes to something to which I’m not making the connection. I looked it up on Yahoo and mostly what came up with, searching for “St Patrick” and “Light” simultaneously, was Bud Light. (Yea, verily.)

    The first use seems apt enough. The second picks up on the first in the “grant us” clause. The third one seems a bit much, — even if it IS in a “so that” clause. (“Grant us so to walk in that light that we may come at last to the light …etc.”) As the Pennsylvania Dutch might put it, “Outen the lights, already!”

    The second part of the opening ends awkwardly (“to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you…”). Ending with “of you” sounds and feels stilted. “To a true knowledge of you” would work, suggesting the problem might be in modifying something optical like “light” with a modifier — “true” — that only works with something intellectual, “true knowledge.” What would true or untrue light be? “Light” needs to be modified by a word like “brighter,” “clearer,” etc. Consult an Irishman for a more congenial way to express it.

    Other than that, I think it’s “grand.”

    • Even I don’t like my comment, above, about the collect. Ignore it. The comment is worse than what it’s talking about. Sorry. Philip may be on a more enlightened path.

  4. My father’s family came to the U.S. from Ireland probably during the Potato Famine. When I joined the Episcopal church as an adult and began reading about St. Patrick, I became even prouder of my heritage. One of the things that impressed me most about St. Patrick is that he went back to the land where he was enslaved and ministered to the very people who had taken away his freedom. I see this as the essence of “blessing those who curse us”, and a message which today’s Church sorely needs. I believe that a reference for this emptying of self for those, who by human standards, should have received punishment and revenge would be a needed reminder for all of us. Patrick’s living out of Christ’s command to do this very thing is, to me, the reason for celebrating and a call for the Church to live this out in our lives.

  5. Patrick obvously belongs on our calender (where he has been for years. ) There are at least some congregations who will keep his feast instead of the Lenten Weekday, and the new OT lesson gives the a full lectionary.

  6. Was St. Patrick Welsh by birth? What is meant by Northwest Britain as his birth place? I used to think he was English by birth, but that may need correction. Of course, no one claims that he was born in Ireland, but was he a Welshman?

    • He was Roman by birth. The place he was born no longer exists and historians and geographers have not reached a consensus on where it was. There is reasonable evidence for Wales, Scotland, and England. Most resources you see will pick one to avoid confusion.

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