Not much historically is known of Saint Patrick with any degree of certainty. Even the dates of his birth and death are the subject of debate and differing accounts. However, there are two letters that have survived to today, the Confessio and the Epistola, that are generally accepted as having been written by Saint Patrick. These letters provide the only historically reliable information about Saint Patrick.
Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britian at Banna Venta Berniae in about A.D. 387. His father, Calpornius, was a deacon, and his grandfather, Potitus, a priest. When Saint Patrick was about sixteen he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for about six years, working as a herdsman. During this period of slavery Patrick's faith grew and he prayed daily. One day, Patrick heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home and that his ship was ready. Fleeing from his captivity, Saint Patrick traveled 200 miles to a distant port where he found a ship and, after additional trials, eventually returned to his home and family in his early twenties.
After returning home, Saint Patrick recounts a vision he received:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us."Later in life, after being ordained a bishop, Saint Patrick returned to Ireland to do missionary work. There he baptized thousands and ordained priests and traveling from home to home. Not conforming himself to the norms of the Irish age in which he lived, Saint Patrick was often outside of the society and at least once was robbed of all he had an put into chains.However, this did not deter his zeal for the Gospel and his mission in Ireland.
Although disputed, some accounts say that Saint Patrick died on 17 March 460. Other accounts date his death to A.D. 493.
In the secular realm, Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated in most of the Western world as a celebration of Irish tradition or as a celebration of Ireland herself. As has been said many times, on Saint Patrick's Day, "We're all Irish!"
An excellent and lengthy article on Saint Patrick can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia, available here.
God our Father,
You sent Saint Patrick
to preach your glory to the people of Ireland.
By the help of his payers,
may all Christians proclaim your love to all men.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
IMAGE: Saint Patrick as portrayed in a stained glass window at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California.