As is the case with many of the Catholic saints who lived before or during the Middle Ages, exact details of the life of Saint Patrick tend to be shrouded in the mists of history. From what historians have been able to reconstruct from the annals of antiquity, Patrick was born around 385 AD in the town of Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, Scotland. His parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, were officials of Rome who were stationed in the Roman colony of Britain.
At around the age of fourteen, Patrick was kidnapped by coastal raiders who transported him to Ireland, where he was enslaved and assigned the task of shepherding. Ireland, at the time, was a pagan land whose religious leaders were the Druids, and it was during this time of captivity that Patrick learned the Celtic language and the customs and practices of the Irish people.
The sting of slavery and separation from his loved ones led Patrick to seek God through prayer, which became his constant companion. When twenty years old – after six years in Ireland – Patrick had a dream that helped him to leave Ireland and return to his family in Scotland. He then had another dream that the people of Ireland were begging him to return.
Patrick chose to enter the priesthood, and was ordained by Saint Germanus, the bishop of Auxerre. Eventually, he was, in turn, ordained a bishop as well, and was commissioned to return to Ireland to spread the Christian faith. He arrived in the spring of 433AD and immediately began to preach the Gospel. His success was staggering, and over the next 40 years, virtually all of Ireland embraced Christianity. In many cases, royal families converted to Christianity, and their entire kingdoms followed suit. Patrick and his closest disciples (Beningnus, Fiacc, Iserninus and Auxilius) were responsible for the construction of churches in every corner of the Emerald Isle.
Patrick has been credited with using the shamrock as a visual aid to teach of the Holy Trinity, and the shamrock has been associated with him ever since. There is no credence to the story, however, that Patrick single-handedly banished all the snakes from Ireland.
Patrick was a humble, pious and gentle man of profound faith, hope and love. After years of constant travelling – and living in near poverty – Patrick passed away on March 17, 461 AD at Saul, near the spot where he founded the first church in Ireland. To this day, Patrick is one of the most beloved of all the Catholic saints, and his feast day is a holyday of obligation in Ireland.