First St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in America
ON THE SEVENTEENTH of March, people around the world celebrate the life of St. Patrick. The first such celebration in America seems to have taken place on this day, 17 March 1737 when the Charitable Irish Society of Boston held a St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Though worth remembering because he converted Ireland to Christianity, we have little reliable information about Patrick. We are not even sure where he was born or when—it was somewhere on the western coast of England or Scotland in 372 or afterward.
His parents, Calpurniun and Conchessa, were leaders of a Christian community, but Patrick did not take their faith seriously until disaster struck. One day, while he was enjoying himself on the seashore, Irish pirates seized him. They sold him to a chieftain named Milchu who required him to tend sheep. In misery, Patrick turned to God:
I was sixteen years old and knew not the true God; but in that strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes and, although late, I called my sins to mind, and was converted with my whole heart to the Lord my God....The love of God increased more and more in me with faith and the fear of His name. The Spirit urged me to such a degree that I poured forth as many as a hundred prayers in one day. And even during the night, in the forests and on the mountains where I kept my flock, the rain, and snow, and suffering which I endured, excited me to seek after God...”
Six years later, Patrick escaped and made his way home. However, he would not enjoy a permanent reunion with his family. In a dream, he saw Irish children pleading for the gospel, saying, “O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us.” The Spirit of God confirmed his determination to return to his captors and preach the gospel. In preparation, he obtained Christian training.
Patrick examines the facts and fable about the apostle to Ireland.
Patrick labored in Ireland the rest of his life, often in the face of fierce opposition, converting entire clans to Christianity. His confidence was in Christ. To him we may owe the beautiful prayer called “Patrick’s Breastplate” that includes these words:
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”
Ireland became a repository of Christian faith. Within a century, the island would begin sending missionaries of its own to England, Scotland, and even to the European continent.
Legend says Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but he does not need the assistance of that myth to bolster his accomplishments. He brought Christ to a nation and introduced changes that resulted in seven centuries of relative peace. That is his highest claim to honor.