What St. Patrick Can Still Teach the World

Detail of stained glass depicting St. Patrick, in Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Goleen, County Cork. | Credit: Andreas F. Borchert via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Although March 17 is still known to the world as St. Patrick’s Day, the celebrations tend to focus more on beer and leprechauns than on the saint himself. That’s a shame because there’s a lot to celebrate about the legendary St. Patrick.

Born in Britain in the latter years of the fourth century and torn from his home in a slave raid as a young man, Patrick went on to be one of the greatest missionaries the Catholic Church has ever known.

St. Patrick and Ireland — for many people, it’s impossible to think of one without the other. His name is, and will always be, associated with the conversion of a nation. In the illustrious history of evangelization, few saints could make similar claims.

There are many reasons to admire Patrick: He was an orator of Ciceronian proportion, he was gifted with the ability to teach common people uncommonly difficult concepts, his physical stamina was legendary, his perseverance unwavering, and his personal sanctity was evident to all except those who blindly refused to see it.

Yet, there was one man who wasn’t all that impressed with Patrick, and that was Patrick himself.


In reading his own writing, one quality perhaps rises above the rest: humility. Two of his written works survive from antiquity: “Confession” and “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.” Both provide a glimpse of the Apostle of Ireland in his own words.

The humility of St. Patrick is evident in his writings. For instance, he begins his “Confession”: “I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many.”

To hear Patrick tell it, he was slow-witted, sinful, and unlikeable. However, an objective analysis illustrates he was actually brilliant, holy, and loved throughout the nation. Patrick loved the Irish people and the Irish loved Patrick. They also loved God.

In “The Building of Christendom,” Catholic historian Dr. Warren Carroll writes: “The Irish proved, remarkably, almost uniquely receptive to Christianity. Their conversion … was unusually rapid, unusually thorough, and above all peaceful. … The native priesthood, the druids, feared and opposed Christianity but seem to have been almost helpless in the face of its rapid and steady advance.”

Carroll, who is well known for his historical observation that “one man can make a difference,” could certainly point to St. Patrick to defend his claim. Indeed, with the efforts of Patrick, the Emerald Isle experienced a springtime of Christianity. Patrick’s humility, coupled with his trust in God’s love, proved a powerful combination for evangelization.

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In his latter years, Patrick could look back with wonder and joy at how eager the Irish were to embrace Christianity. He writes: “So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God.”

Only by God’s grace, for sure. Yet at least part of the reason for their conversion lies in Patrick’s faith, courage, and humility.

Though he lived more than 15 centuries ago, Patrick still has a lesson to teach our world today. 

We have gone mad in an effort to glorify ourselves. We tend to be slow to recognize or thank others, but we are lightning fast in pointing out our own achievements and demanding recognition. In our narcissistic world of selfies, our focus often fails to reach beyond arm’s length. There is a name for all this, of course: pride.

Happily, there are ways to overcome this vice, and one of those is to consider the humility of St. Patrick. After all he had accomplished, after all he had endured, Patrick sensed that others might conclude that he was the hero. But he admonished them, assuring them that anything worthwhile that he achieved was “the gift of God.”


God wants us to be successful in our vocation and every effort that expresses his will. But in the end, we must have the humility to see that each and every one of our successes is the gift of God. We can honor St. Patrick by first recognizing that fact.

This article was originally published by the National Catholic Register, a partner of CNA, on March 17, 2017, and has been adapted for CNA.