St. Patrick returns to Ireland as a missionary bishop on April 5, 456.
Patrick is born in Britain of a Romanized family. At age 16, he is taken from his family by Irish raiders and carried into slavery in Ireland. During six bleak years spent as a herdsman, he turns with fervour to his faith. Hearing at last in a dream that the ship in which he is to escape is ready, he flees his master and finds passage to Britain. There he is reunited with his family.
The best known passage in the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography, tells of a dream where he is told to walk once more among the Irish. He is reluctant to respond to the call for a long time. Even on the eve of re-embarkation for Ireland he is beset by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once in the field, however, his hesitations vanish. Utterly confident in the Lord, he journeys far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. On at least one occasion, he is cast into chains. On another, he addresses with lyrical pathos a last farewell to his converts who have been slain or kidnapped by the soldiers of Coroticus.
Careful to deal fairly with the non-Christian Irish, he nevertheless lives in constant danger of martyrdom. The evocation of such incidents of what he calls his “laborious episcopate” is his reply to a charge that he originally sought office for the sake of office. In point of fact, he is a most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who have worshiped “idols and unclean things” have become “the people of God.”
The phenomenal success of Patrick’s mission is not, however, the full measure of his personality. Since his writings have come to be better understood, it is increasingly recognized that, despite their occasional incoherence, they mirror a truth and a simplicity of the rarest quality. Not since St. Augustine of Hippo has any religious diarist bared his inmost soul as Patrick does in his writings.
It is not possible to say with any assurance when Patrick was born. There are, however, a number of pointers to his missionary career having lain within the second half of the 5th century. In the Coroticus letter, his mention of the Franks as still “heathen” indicates that the letter must have been written between 451, the date generally accepted as that of the Franks’ irruption into Gaul as far as the Somme River, and 496, when they are baptized en masse. Patrick, who speaks of himself as having evangelized heathen Ireland, is not to be confused with Palladius, sent by Pope Celestine I in 431 as “first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.”
St. Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba, although this has never been proven. Saint Patrick Visitor Centre is a modern exhibition complex located in Downpatrick and is a permanent interpretative exhibition centre featuring interactive displays on the life and story of Saint Patrick. It provides the only permanent exhibition centre in the world devoted to Saint Patrick.