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Who Was St. Patrick?

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Saint Patrick
Alan Gionet Good Question
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This story originally aired on CBS4 on March 17, 2007.

DENVER (CBS4) — Every March 17 — what’s believed to be the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick — people enjoy all things Irish. Ireland’s patron saint has become an icon for the day and the country.

“What was St. Patrick like,” CBS4 asked one five year old visiting the Thistle and Shamrock, a store specializing in Irish and Scottish goods.

“A starfish,” he said, mixing up the saint with Patrick, the best friend of cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants. Ask others and they’re not sure. “Chased the snakes from Ireland, correct?” said one woman.

Unfortunately that one involves a bit of blarney.

Sister Peg Maloney, the director of university ministry at Regis University in Denver, says there are many stories.

“It’s not necessarily that they’re historically accurate as much as the meaning of those events is accurate,” she said.

St. Patrick was born in Great Britain, possible modern Scotland or Wales in the late 300s. He was kidnapped in his teenage years and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved as a shepherd.

“And during that time in captivity he had his own conversion to God,” said Sister Maloney.

Later, after he was able to escape and joined the ministry, spending time in Italy and getting the mission to return to England and Ireland to evangelize. Patrick had a knack for explaining concepts to people. He’s credited with many things, among them, “The tradition is that he used the shamrock to teach people about the trinity three persons in one God.” No one knows for sure if that was Patrick’s innovation.

The fact that St. Patrick lived more than 1500 years ago, leaves many aspects of his existence open for interpretation. Religious experts do know he preached along with other missionaries at a time when many Irish were still practicing paganism. May achievements attributed to Patrick may well have been the work of others.

The story about St. Patrick driving snakes into the sea is doubtful, because many large islands like new Zealand, Greenland, Iceland and Ireland never had snakes in the first place. But the story may have been symbolism anyway. Snakes may have been symbols of paganism, which Patrick was able to help drive from Ireland.

The partying in Patrick’s name is largely an American invention. The parades here in the U.S. were celebrations of Irish culture. In Ireland itself it has always been more of a religious observance, until recently. Now there are parades and parties much like those in the US.

Sister Peg says that’s okay with her. She has no problem with the big party associated with Patrick’s life. “Absolutely not, my family would disown me if I did.”

– Written by Alan Gionet

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