Like Saint Nicholas, Saint Patrick—whose feast day is celebrated today in the Catholic liturgical calendar—was a real person who has been venerated since early Christian history. He has been the patron saint of Ireland since at least the seventh century, but he was not Irish. Patrick was born around AD 387 in what is now England, which was then occupied by the Roman Empire.
Around the age of sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. After about six years, he escaped and returned home to his family in Britain. Relatively little is known about his adulthood except that he became a Priest and then a Bishop. As a Bishop, he was sent back to Ireland. Some evidence shows that Patrick and other Bishops were sent to minister to the nascent Christian communities there, but Patrick gained a reputation for converting thousands to the Catholic faith. One of two surviving letters attributed to Patrick states that he “baptized thousands of people.” By some accounts, almost the whole of Ireland was converted under St. Patrick. The impact of his efforts survives to this day; over 73 percent of the population of the island of Ireland is Catholic.
St. Patrick was a foreigner in Irish captivity, having been ripped from his home and enslaved against his will. But his faith in God, and obedience to Holy Church, led him back to the people who had enslaved him—a people toward whom a lesser man might have bore hatred and resentment. Instead, he bore toward them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and an attitude of Christian love. He went on to be one of the most significant influences on Irish history and culture, and to become the patron saint of Ireland.
“I came to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others. If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for Christ’s name. I want to spend myself for that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favor. It is among that people that I want to wait for the promise made by him, who assuredly never tells a lie. He makes this promise in the Gospel: ‘They shall come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ This is our faith: believers are to come from the whole world.”
– from The Confession of Saint Patrick.