St. Patrick is, without a doubt, one of the great hero-saints in the history of the Church. Forget the green beer and Leprechauns with rainbows: this guy was seriously spiritual with God’s grace running through his veins.
Born to a Catholic family in Roman Britain, his father was both a Catholic deacon and a local Roman ruler, and his grandfather was a priest. But Patrick himself didn’t take his faith too seriously. And why should he have? He had a comfortable life and a bright future with endless possibilities.
That is, until a nightmare scenario descended on him when he was just 16 years old: he was violently captured by pirates. Ripped from his native Britain, they took him back to pagan Ireland where he was sold into slavery, reduced to nothing more than someone’s property.
He was humiliated and terrified. Would he ever see his family again? Would he ever regain his freedom? Would he die in this strange and God-forsaken land? In utter hopelessness, Patrick turned to one of the few things he had left: the Catholic faith his parents had taught him.
He tried praying, seriously praying, perhaps for the first time in his life. He was ordered to shepherd his master’s flock, which allowed him to pray throughout the day. And what a change it brought about for him! This was a turning point for his whole life, as he later explained in an autobiography:
Then, one night – after several years in which he was forced into hard, dirty work, but his spirit was growing ever closer to God – he had a mystical experience. A voice supernaturally spoke to him saying, “You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.” What did it mean? Looking at his circumstances, there certainly didn’t seem to be any way out. But during another night not much later, he heard another voice, “Behold, your ship is ready.”
A ship? He was 200 miles from the nearest harbor. But he stepped out in faith, and trusted that God would lead him. So, after six years of slavery, he made a run for it. Guided only by faith, he somehow made it to the harbor. And just as he did, he found a ship getting ready to leave for Britain.
Unfortunately, they went off course and landed in a rural area of Britain. After nearly a month of traveling on foot, they had run out of food and were nearly starving. Patrick had been trying to convert them, and so they lashed out at him, wondering why his God wasn’t helping them. He implored them to give themselves to Christ, which they finally did – immediately after which they came across a herd of wild boar.