March Newsletter: Celebrating Ste. Paddy

Celebrating Ste. Paddy

by Glenda Bonham

Ste. Patrick’s Day celebrates the Roman Catholic feast day of the patron saint of Ireland. (Yes, there are two abbreviations for the word ‘saint’ in the English language.) St. Paddy’s Day started as a religious celebration in the 17th century to commemorate the life of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. This “Feast Day” always takes place on the anniversary of Patrick’s death, which was believed to be March 17, 461 AD.

Born in Roman occupied Britain in the late 4th century, his birth name is believed to have been Maewyn Succat. He was kidnapped at the age of 16, taken across the Irish Sea and sold into slavery by pirates. He wrote in his ‘Confessio’ that he was “humbled every day by hunger and nakedness.” during his six years tending cattle in the Irish wilderness. He escaped by stowing away on a ship and returned to his family in England.

Far behind his peers in education and religious studies, Maewyn set about becoming a Catholic priest, then a bishop and took the name Patrick. Acting as a missionary he returned to Ireland about 432 AD to convert the Irish to Christianity, to abolish slavery, and to end the practice of human sacrifices among the Celtic tribes. By the time of his death he had established monasteries, churches, and schools across Ireland.

Myths and legends abound to this day about the English saint. The truths are: St. Patrick did not banish the snakes from Ireland. After the last Ice Age, snakes never returned to the Emerald Isle. Neither is there proof that Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock to impart the doctrine of the Trinity to the 5th-century pagans. The first such reference is from a botanical catalogue published in 1726. There is no evidence that it was Patrick who combined pagan and Christian imagery into the Celtic cross. He was not actually Irish, he was never canonized by a Pope, and his real name wasn’t Patrick.

Irish immigrants brought the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to the New World. Parades, feasts, and celebrations started in Boston and then New York City. The Chicago River has been dyed green annually since 1962. Some enterprising American pub owner started dyeing his cheap beer green to increase sales in 1914; it became tradition.

“Drinking green beer doesn’t make you Irish, it just makes you pee,” said Rev. Jack Ward, a Baltimore Irish-American priest, with a laugh. “But, real Irish men and women have a place in their heart for St. Patrick.”


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