Saint Patrick is technically not a saint, as he was never canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Additionally, Patrick was not actually Irish. Rather, he was an Englishman and a Roman citizen, who spoke Latin and a bit of Welsh.
Patrick was born around AD 390. When he was roughly sixteen years of age, he was captured by pirates and taken on a ship to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery. He spent the next six years alone in the wilderness as a shepherd for his master’s cattle and sheep.
Patrick was a rebellious non-Christian teenager who had come from a Christian family. His grandfather was a pastor, and his father was a deacon. However, during his extended periods of isolation without any human contact, Patrick began praying and was eventually born again into a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. Patrick endured the years of isolation in rain and snow by praying up to a hundred prayers each day, and another hundred each night.
In his early twenties, God spoke to Patrick in a dream, telling him to flee from his master for a ship that was waiting for him. Amazingly, Patrick made the 200-mile walk without being caught or harmed and found a ship setting sail for his home, just as God had promised. The sailors were out of food for the journey, so Patrick prayed. Miraculously, a herd of pigs ran toward the ship, providing a bountiful feast for the long voyage home.
Upon returning home, Patrick enrolled in seminary and was eventually commissioned as a pastor. Some years later, God spoke to Patrick in a dream, commanding him to return to Ireland to preach the gospel and plant churches for the pagans who lived there.
Preaching the Gospel with Three-Leaf Clovers
The Roman Catholic Church had given up on converting such “barbarians,” who were deemed beyond hope. The Celtic peoples, of which the Irish were part, were an illiterate bunch of drunken, fighting, perverted pagans, who basically had sex with anyone and worshiped anything. They were such a violent and lawless people, numbering anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000, that they had no city centers or national government and were spread out among some 150 warring clans. Their enemies were terrified of them because they were known to show up for battles and partake in wild orgies before running into battle naked and drunk, screaming as if they were demon-possessed. One clan was so debased that it was customary for each new king to copulate with a white mare as part of his inauguration.
In faith, the forty-year-old Patrick sold all of possessions, including the land he had inherited from his father, to fund his missionary journey to Ireland. He worked as an itinerant preacher and paid large sums of money to various tribal chiefs to ensure he could travel safely through their lands and preach the gospel.
His strategy was completely unique. He functioned like a missionary, trying to relate to the Irish people and communicate the gospel in their culture by using such things as three-leaf clovers to explain the gospel. Upon entering a pagan clan, Patrick would seek to first convert the tribal leaders and other people of influence. He would then pray for the sick, cast demons out of the possessed, preach the Bible, and use both musical and visual arts to persuade people to put their faith in Jesus. If enough converts were present, he would build a simple church that did not resemble ornate Roman architecture, baptize the converts, and hand over the church to a convert he had trained to be the pastor. Then he would move on to repeat the process with another clan.
Patrick gave his life to the people who had enslaved him, until he died at 77 years of age. He had seen untold thousands of people convert, as between 30-40 of the 150 tribes had become substantially Christian. He trained 1000 pastors, planted 700 churches, and was the first noted person in history to take a strong public stand against slavery.