It’s time for me to recycle my “St. Patrick Was Italian” column as March 17th approaches:
The first St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. was held in Boston in 1734. By stretching things a bit, you can correctly state that “St. Patrick was Italian.”
Patrick’s parents were Romans.
The Romans ruled England at that time. Calpurnius, Patrick’s father, was a high Roman diplomat living in England, but a Roman citizen.
Patrick was born in England around the year 385 A.D. Roman cities in England had shops and beautiful houses, so Patrick lived the good life for a while.
Across the sea in Ireland (Eire), things were not so good. Tribal kings were constantly, feuding, and in the year 400 A.D., a tribal king (Niall) attacked England.
He took thousands of prisoners, including Patrick, for slaves. Soon the rich little Roman kid was forced to herd pigs and sheep, just a poor little slave boy far from home.
Patrick was taken to Northern Ireland and sold to another tribal king named Meliucc. Meliucc and his family were kind to Patrick, and their children were good company. Still, Patrick (Maewyn) was alone in a strange land, only 15 years old.
He did not know the language; he didn’t know if his family was still alive. Patrick slept in a mud hut and was a swineherd.
At the age of 21, after six years as a slave, he ran away. Walking many miles to the sea, he found a ship that took him back to England. By now, the Romans had been chased out; they were no longer the rulers, and the country was in ruins. Patrick sailed across the channel and wandered through Europe, and then on to Rome, and found that by the year 410 A.D., the center of all Roman power had been conquered as well.
His past was really dead, so he decided to go back to England to think, pray and live very quietly there. While in prayer, he felt certain that God was calling him back to Ireland, to bring all those tribes together and make Ireland a Christian land.
But first, Patrick went to France and studied religion there for ten years. In the year 432 A.D., Pope Celestine made Patrick a Bishop and named him “Patricius.”
Now, Bishop Patricius sailed for Ireland. The Irish people were not interested in Christianity and tried to stone him to death.
The Bishop and his men fled and found shelter for the night in a barn near the shore. The barn belonged to a tribal king named Dichu.
He thought the Bishop and his men were robbers and wanted to kill them. Patrick held out his hand and smiled, and a golden aura shone on his face.
Dichu put down his weapon, his fierce dog stopped growling (according to legend), and Dichu became the first Christian in Ireland and the barn, the first church. Patrick traveled all over Ireland. He always had a drummer with him. When he arrived at a village, the drummer would drum, and the people would come from their houses to listen to him (as in drumming up business).
Patrick showed them a shamrock, like a three-leafed clover. Patrick explained the idea of the Father, the Son and, the Holy Ghost. (If no shamrocks are handy, use the water, ice and steam idea).
Today, the shamrock is Ireland’s national flower, and as more and more tribal kings and their people became Christians, they came together to worship and be united as a country.
Bishop Patricius drummed the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea (according to legend), and built hundreds of churches. When he died on March 17 (between 461 and 492 A.D.), the Pope declared him a saint and had him buried on church grounds in Downpatrick, Ireland. In the U.S., St Patrick’s Day means party time. In Ireland, it means Holy Time.
I suggest you find and read the book “Patrick – Patron Saint of Ireland”, by author Tomie DePaola, to any “Bambini” in your life.
Children’s books illustrator Tomie de Paola, whose roots are Irish-Italian, says he first became aware of St. Patrick as a young child attending mass with his maternal grandparents.
On a side altar was a colorful statue of a saint holding a staff in one hard, a shamrock in the other. At his feet, squirming and squiggling into the plastic water, were green snakes.
Pausing in front of the statue, his grandfather would say, “That’s St. Patrick. He’s Irish, just like us.” Then, said Tomie, “I immediately forgot that I was half Italian. Every year after that, I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with gusto, decorating my room with shamrocks. My brother took ‘Patrick’ for his confirmation name. My Italian father celebrated too claiming Patrick was from Italy (son of a Roman Citizen).