Abbess’s Chapter Talk for St Patrick’s Day 2024

Today we celebrate the feast of St Patrick.  We rejoice in his response to God’s call, in his conversion and his success in being an instrument of God’s love and care for the Irish people of the 5th century.  He, with many others, began a faith tradition in Ireland which has endured through highs and lows up to the present day.  His success came because he opened his heart to the revelation of God’s tender care and love, and like St Paul, he was passionate and convincing in his desire to know Christ and to bring people to Christ.  He knew from experience the goodness and kindness and mercy of God; he came to know Jesus through reading the Gospels and it was the Gospel that he preached.  He was humble enough to be all things to all people, he was strong enough to physically travel the west and north of Ireland, and he was wise enough to know that God had given him this mission and so he could count on God’s supportive care at all times.

“Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling that you should cooperate with me with such divine power?  Today, among heathen peoples, I praise and proclaim your name in all places, not only when things go well but also in times of stress”.


Copies have survived of two writings of St Patrick – The Confession of St Patrick and The Letter to Coroticus.  They tell us the kind of man Patrick was – captured as a slave he turned to the Lord and was liberated in a deep and inner way that led to his being sent as the one who would lead the Irish to know the living God.   He knew from his own experience the goodness, kindness and mercy of God; he knew also how to turn adversity into opportunity. He successfully turned the adversity of six years of slavery on Slemish into an opportunity to grow in his knowledge and love of the God who, in Patrick’s words, “protected and comforted me as a father would his son.” That knowledge and love of the God our Father and his life in the Trinity are the basis of Patrick’s greatness.

We celebrate Patrick in a special way because of his outstanding efforts and achievement in converting much of the north and west of Ireland.  He is thought to have been born in Banwen in Wales, the son of a deacon named Calpornius and his mother was Conchessa. His grandfather, Potitus, as Patrick says in his own writings, was a priest (#1). Patrick was taken captive at about the age of sixteen.  While working as a shepherd in Ireland he underwent a conversion experience. In his Confessions we read,

“The Lord there made me aware of my unbelief, that I might at last advert to my sins and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord my God. He showed concern for my weakness and pity for my youth and ignorance; he watched over me before I got to know him and before I was able to distinguish good from evil. In fact, he protected me and comforted me as a father would his son.”


During his time in Ireland Patrick became a man of deep prayer. Again, in his Confessions we read:

“After I had come to Ireland I daily used to feed cattle, and I prayed frequently during the day; the love of God and the fear of Him increased more and more, and faith became stronger and the spirit was stirred; so that in one day I said about a hundred prayers, and in the night about the same; so that I used even to remain in the woods and in the mountains; before daylight I used to rise to pray, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm; nor was there any slothfulness in me, as I now perceive, because the spirit was then fervent within me.


While here in captivity for six years he learned the Irish language which would be essential for his later mission here. He returned to his native land and then went to France for training as a missionary. While in France he suffered a severe setback, probably his greatest, when rejected for the appointment because of a revelation  by a priest friend, of a misdeed of his thirty years previously ( #27). He said he came close to giving up completely (#26). But Patrick saw good coming out of the evil, as he says in the Confessions:

“But this was for my good, for thus was I purified by the Lord, and He made me fit that I might be now what was once far from me – that I should care and labour for the salvation of others.”


That very night God comforted him and he heard God saying to him, “Anyone who touches you touches the apple of my eye” (#29). He was ordained bishop and commissioned for the mission in Ireland by Pope Celestine who gave him the name Patrick, which means ‘father’ (from the Latin word “pater”) since he was to be a father to the Irish. He worked night and day to bring the faith all over the country. He preached with authority and faith-filled conviction. He was what we would now describe as a charismatic person. Bringing the Irish to know the true God could be described as his vocation. What kept him going during his trials was obviously his close friendship with God. He drew strength for living Gospel values from God. He was humble, there was no pride in him, he realized that it was God who was working through him. At the very end of his Confessions he admits that he did nothing, it was God who did it all.

“But I want you to know and sincerely believe that anything I achieved was not through my effort, it was the gift of God and this is my confession before I die.”


He is said to have died on March 17th in the year 493 and is buried in the same grave as St. Brigid and St. Columba in Downpatrick, County Down.

What is the grace being offered us today?  To immerse ourselves fully in God’s special care and call to each of us, to know Him as Father, to find His will in all our trials, to trust him unreservedly, to be alert to all the opportunities we are given each day to proclaim the Gospel, and to know that whatever good we do is God’s doing.

M Marie Fahy OCSO