This past week this tired old world experienced an historical event that does not come around very often. It is, in fact, rare enough to demand widespread attention and it certainly did do that. I am of course noting the election of a new pope by the Catholic Church.
As is the custom the newly elected pontiff took a name based on a saint of the church or on one of his predecessors and in this particular case the selection seems to have met with widespread approval. The name, Pope Francis brings up visions of humility, good deeds and other acts that are for the public good, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi who lived long ago.
This past week we also observed the feast day of St. Patrick, one that has commanded attention in many quarters of the world, the U.S. being one of them.
We recall that a few years ago there was a movement in the Church to do away with some of the obscure saints with the notion that they did not exist. Some that were mentioned were Valentine and Nicholas and I think that even Patrick came up. But, as I remember, the protests were loud and clear and it was decided to let well enough alone.
I mention this because the other day I received a note from Glennalie Coleman, a long time reader of this space. She attached a copy of a magazine column written by Maria Gloria attesting to the notion that St. Patrick might have been Italian. Gloria avers that the first St. Patrick’s day in the U.S. was held in Boston in 1737. Patrick’s parents were Romans hence the Italian heritage.
Patrick’s father was a high Roman official named Calpurnius who lived in England but was a Roman citizen. Patrick was born in about 385 AD and lived the good life in England. But, across the sea in Ireland things were not too good. Tribal kings were constantly feuding and in 400 AD, one of these, Niall, attacked England. He took thousands of prisoners, including Patrick, making them slaves to be sold. Soon the young rich kid, Patrick, was forced to herd pigs and sheep a long way from home.
When Patrick was 21, after 6 years as a slave he ran away. He walked many miles until he found a ship that took him back to England. By now the Romans had been chased out of England and the country was in ruins.
He wandered through Europe and went back to Rome where he found that all Roman power had been conquered as well. He decided to go back to England to study and pray.
While in prayer he decided that God was calling him back to Ireland, to bring all the tribes together and to make the land a Christian nation. But first Patrick went to France and studied religion for 10 years. In the year 432 the Pope made Patrick a bishop and named him “Patricius.” Now he sailed for Ireland and with his followers found shelter in a barn that belonged to a man named Dichu. He thought at first that Patrick was a robber but soon found that he was a good man so he put down his weapons. Legend says that Dichu was the first Christian in Ireland and his barn the first church.
Patrick traveled all over Ireland. He had a drummer with him who would herald his coming. The people would then gather round him and listen to the word. In a sense he was drumming up business. He continued the drumming, ridding the country of snakes and building many churches. When he died about in 461 AD the pope declared him a saint.
He is buried in Ireland.
Gloria closes by stating that St Patrick’s Day in the U.S. means party time and in Ireland it means Holy Time.
I would rather close by being thankful that we have patron saints—even if some might say they are just legends.