Despite the danger of being pulled into slavery, Patrick obeyed the call of God to return to Ireland, bearing the light of the Gospel.
As parents, we can sometimes become discouraged as we search for role models to share with our children – especially those from our own times. Thankfully, history provides us with the stories of women and men of faith who gave their lives to see the cause of Christ and of liberty proclaimed in their lifetimes. One of these heroes is Patrick, the man who brought the Gospel to Ireland.
Born in Britain in A.D. 390, the historical person we know as Saint Patrick was raised in a Christian family. His grandfather had been a Catholic priest and his father served as a deacon. But Patrick had little interest in God or religion in his early years.
At only 16 years old, Patrick was kidnapped by marauders in his homeland of Britain (it is believed he was from either modern Wales or Scotland) and forced into slave labor in faraway Ireland.
Patrick’s world was violently altered when he was carried across the sea to serve as a slave in the pagan wilderness of Ireland. For the next six grueling years, Patrick was held in bondage as a slave, tending sheep. Alone in a foreign land with no hope of escaping slavery, Patrick cried out to God for deliverance.
In his famous Confession of Saint Patrick, he wrote of how this dark time in his life drove him to a relationship with God. “After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times…”
In answer to his prayers, God revealed Himself to Patrick in a dream. It was there one night in his sleep that he heard a voice saying: “‘You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country.’ Again, after a short while, I heard a someone saying to me: ‘Look – your ship is ready.’”
With this vision in mind, Patrick escaped and traveled 200 miles across Ireland to the west coast where he found a ship set to sail for England. At first the captain refused to take him aboard. But after Patrick spent time in desperate prayer, somehow the heart of the captain softened, and Patrick was invited aboard.
A New Home and a New Life
Patrick was joyfully reunited with his parents in Britain. “A few years later I was again with my parents in Britain. They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again.” He remained with his family for more than a decade and during that time studied to be a priest.
For 12 years he studied under his mentor, St. Germain, the bishop of Auxerre. In time, Patrick rose to the position of bishop himself. His ministry prospered in his native land, but then God intervened in a way that both surprised and troubled him.
One night he received a message in a dream from the people who had once enslaved him. “I saw, in a vision in the night,” Patrick later wrote, “a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. … They called out as it were with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.’ This touched my heart deeply…”