Please see my earlier post on St. Patrick to learn about his early life.
III. Life as Seminarian, Priest, and Missionary
He realized that to do this, he would have to enter the priesthood and then persuade his bishop to send him to Ireland. So he went to France and began to his studies, forsaking the family farm. He was a good student and excelled, which was remarkable considering he had little formal education up to this point. Eventually he was ordained a priest, and was well regarded by his bishop.
Although Patrick begged the bishop to let him go to Ireland, he found this gifted young priest useful and so wanted to keep him on staff. The trusted Patrick was sent on some important missions by the bishop. Patrick was elevated to bishop, and was finally commissioned by the Pope to go to Ireland. A missionary by the name of Palladius had already been in Ireland for a few years attempting to convert the people. However, he hadn’t been very effective, and his death opened the way for Patrick to go there to replace him. All this was in God’s timing.
2. The Missionary Work
This was the time of the Druids, and they had a strong hold on the people. Converting these people to Christianity wasn’t going to be easy. Patrick arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, and made his way to Slane (which is the tune name for the hymn “Be Thou My Vision”). One legend says that there he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who wanted to kill him. Patrick converted the chieftain after he was unable to move his arm until he stopped threatening Patrick.
Knowing their customs and clan system, Patrick would aim to convert the chieftains first, and the rest of the clan would then follow. God intervened a number of times with miracles and divine protection, and pretty soon the entire island became Christian. However, it was not easy – the Druids didn’t give up without a fight. Patrick was threatened with death, was held captive, and had other hardships, similar to what the Apostle Paul endured 400 years earlier.
Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded all over Ireland. He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened them in the faith, and appointed pastors to continue his work among them. In all this busyness, he did not neglect his own spiritual life. From time to time he withdrew from the duties of his position to devote himself wholly to prayer and penance on a mountain.
More on St. Patrick and the Irish in a future post.