On March 17, many of us put on our favorite green outfit, turn on some Gaelic music and get ready to celebrate the culture of Ireland. Yes, St. Patrick’s Day truly brings out the Irish in all of us. Yet many of us never take the time to stop and think about why exactly it is that we’re celebrating. We are celebrating the life of St. Patrick, a man who spread Christianity throughout the Emerald Isle in the 5th century.

Believe it or not, the patron saint of Ireland was actually born in Britain in the late 4th century. His birth name was not Patrick, either. It was Maewyn Succat, which he would later change to Patricus, or Patrick.

Patrick was born to a religious family, his father a deacon and a grandfather a priest. But in his early life, Patrick was not a religious person. At the age of 16, he was captured by Irish invaders and taken by ship as a slave to Ireland.

For six years, Patrick was a shepherd for his master in Ireland. It is during this time that Patrick found God as he prayed day and night. During a dream one night, Patrick was told to flee from his master to the coast of Ireland where a ship would be waiting to return him to his home. Patrick listened, and after travelling many miles, he found the ship waiting for him and was returned to his family.

Back home, Patrick had another dream. This time, he heard the voices of the Irish calling him to return and teach them the word of God. With the faith he had discovered during his captivity in Ireland, Patrick felt called to do God’s work. He traveled to France and studied in the ministry and was eventually ordained a priest. It is after his ordination that he changed his name to Patrick.

After escaping from Ireland as a slave, Patrick returned with the Pope’s blessing as a missionary. If you have ever wondered why we associate the shamrock with St. Patrick’s Day, it is because Patrick used the clover to teach the Irish about the Holy Trinity. He showed them that the three leaves were all part of one plant, just like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all one God. Things were not always easy for Patrick, however, as he was sometimes imprisoned while trying to spread his message.

Patrick persisted though and went on to convert thousands to Christianity while traveling the island performing baptisms, establishing monasteries, schools and churches. Patrick is often said to be credited for driving all the snakes from Ireland. But historians say there weren’t any snakes in Ireland during this time. It is likely that this means that he drove the evil from Ireland by spreading Christianity.

Patrick died in Ireland on March 17, the day we now celebrate his feast day, or as everybody knows it – St. Patrick’s Day.

So this month, as you head off to a parade, or a pub, or prepare a shepherd’s pie – I hope you will keep in mind the life’s work of St. Patrick. Though his life was threatened and he was placed in prison for his missionary work – he was strong in his beliefs and brought help to those who needed it. When he was enslaved for six years, he found strength in his faith. And when he was able to escape, he returned not with hate in his heart, but with compassion.

Like St. Patrick who traveled through Ireland spreading God’s message, we are blessed to have compassionate volunteers who are spreading the mission of Mercy Home through our March for Kids Campaign.

These volunteers will be at Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parades and traveling to restaurants, businesses, and other events throughout March raising crucial funds for our kids and spreading awareness of our mission. We are grateful for these selfless volunteers who give of themselves, just as St. Patrick did.

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