The Real Saint Patrick

Though shamrocks and snakes weren't part of his ministry, the saint touched hearts across a spectrum of beliefs.

Maire B. de Paor, who goes by her patron saint's name Sister Declan, is an Irish religious scholar who has published numerous books on Gaelic Christianity. In "Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland," Paor chronicles the life of the legendary patron saint.

Kidnapped as a teenager, Patrick was smuggled to Ireland and enslaved. He became a shepherd and prayed for his release for six years. Once freed, he returned to evangelize his pagan captors. Until recently, many believed Patrick was a barely literate rustic. In her book, Paor seeks to uncover the true "poet and apostle" Patrick as revealed through his two major literary works, the Confessio and the Epistola. During her first visit to the U.S., Paor talked with Beliefnet's Manya Brachear about the life behind the legend.

What's different about your book?

My focus is on Patrick's pilgrimage of faith from the time of his humiliation, conversion, vocation, mission and then his crucifixion, I call it, the way his best friend let him down and the way he was probably deposed from office. And his name was not respected in Ireland for another 200 years. He was practically unheard of for almost another 200 years. He was forgotten for the best part of 200 years.


What are specific things that people may not know about St. Patrick?

He was a man of marvelous initiatives far ahead of his superiors, the other bishops in Britain. When he came to Ireland he saw two things. He saw they were a country people; that there were a lot of slaves, as there were in Britain of course. And they were pagan in the northern part of the country. There were a lot of Christians in pockets in the south near Dublin but not in the north. So what did he do? He organized his mission. He went off and became a priest in southern France. He came back to Ireland with permission from his bishops even though they frowned on it a bit and he started his mission.

He preached the word of God to rich and poor, to kings and princes and to the poor slaves as well because he knew their life after living with them for six years. And he trained them himself to become monks and virgins of Christ.

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