St. Patrick’s influence continues today

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, dating 1220, stands next to

On March 17, it is sometimes said,

Everyone is Irish.

This is the feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of
Ireland and probably the best-loved saint in the English-speaking
world.
On March 17, it is sometimes said, “Everyone is Irish.” This is the feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and probably the best-loved saint in the English-speaking world.

South County residents will have an opportunity to honor the spirit of St. Patrick while supporting a worthy cause. At 6 p.m. March 13, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner will be held in St. Mary’s auditorium, 7900 Church St. Proceeds will go to benefit St. Joseph’s Family Center, the ecumenical charity sponsored by several Gilroy churches to help South County’s needy residents.

This nonprofit organization provides bags of food, hot meals (through the Lord’s Table) transportation and lodging vouchers, counseling, employment services and emergency rental, utility and transportation assistance to Gilroy residents. Volunteers help recipients become self-sufficient and self-supporting. Call (408) 842-6662 for information about the dinner or the work of St. Joseph’s Center,

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In the fifth century A.D., fierce barbarians known as Celts inhabited the island of Ireland. A band of them raiding Roman-occupied Britain kidnapped a 16-year-old boy and took him back to Ireland as a slave, where he tended pigs and sheep for six years.

This boy, Patrick, had a vision that inspired him to escape and make his way back to his homeland. Soon he had another vision that called him to return to Ireland as a missionary, so he studied for many years in France to prepare for this ministry, returning to Ireland in 432 as a bishop.

Patrick worked tirelessly to convert the Irish to Christianity, founding hundreds of churches and monasteries, and baptizing thousands of new believers. Legend attributes to him the changing of many pagan practices to Christian purposes: He adapted Celtic fire rites for use as Easter bonfires, recognized the natives’ adoration of the sun and added its shape to the Christian cross to form the familiar Celtic Cross, and used the shamrock clover growing in fields to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity (one god formed of three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Legend says he also banished all the snakes from Ireland, but scientists believe it never had any.

According to Thomas Cahill, “Patrick’s influence extended far beyond his adopted land.” His conversion of Ireland allowed Irish monks to copy and preserve classical texts in their monasteries while Europe was entering the Dark Ages; later, Irish monks returned this knowledge to the mainland by establishing monasteries on the continent.

The day of Patrick’s death, March 17, was declared a holy day about the year 800. It became a day when Mass attendance was obligatory. Soon, small processions were held giving the day a distinctly religious tenor (which it continues to have in Ireland).

As Irish immigrants came to America, however, the holiday developed a secular character. According to David Plotz, “Irish immigrants first celebrated it in Boston in 1737 and first paraded in New York in 1762. By the late 19th century, the St. Patrick’s Day parade had become a way for Irish-Americans to flaunt their numerical and political might, retaining this role today.” The late Frank McCourt has lamented the excessive drinking (often of green beer) that has become part of the celebrations., pointing out that this plays to the popular stereotype of Irishmen as drunkards.

The traditional meal of St. Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage, though this is an American adaptation. Apparently, the early Irish immigrants on New York City’s lower east side couldn’t find the Irish bacon they were accustomed to, so they substituted corned beef purchased at neighboring Jewish delicatessens.

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