Saint Patrick’s Day pays homage to St. Patrick, a missionary who played an integral role in converting the people of Ireland to Christianity. Because of his work, St. Patrick is known as the “Apostle of Ireland,” as well as being the primary patron saint of Ireland alongside saints Brigit of Kildare and Columba.
Upon hearing St. Patrick referred to as the “patron saint” of Ireland, many may wonder just what a patron saint is and how saints become patrons of particular places, professions, etc. From the earliest days of the Catholic Church, groups of the faithful have chosen particularly holy deceased people to intercede with God on their behalf. Although individuals can still pray directly to God, praying to a patron saint as well is like asking a friend to speak on your behalf.
According to About: Religion, the practice of adopting patron saints dates back to the building of the first public churches in the Roman Empire, most of which were built over the graves of martyrs. The churches were then given the name of the martyr, and the martyr was expected to act as an intercessor for the Christians who worshiped there. Churches are largely dedicated to a patron. For example, St. Peter is the patron saint of St. Peter’s Church.
Patron saints are not only advocates for churches, but also they can be the heavenly protector of a nation, profession, class, clan, occupation, family, or even a person. In addition to Roman Catholicism, patron saints also may be recognized in Eastern Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism.
Patron saints are typically chosen because they have some connection to a particular region, profession or family. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, patron saints may be named for diseases, which typically happens when the saint suffered from the malady or cared for someone who did. Christians also can choose to adopt a saint as their patron saint if they bear the saint’s name, or if they took the saint’s name during the sacrament of confirmation.
Examples of patron saints apart from St. Patrick include:
• St. Matthew: Accountants
• St. Francis of Assisi: Animals
• St. Gabriel Possenti: Clergy
• St. Michael the Archangel: Grocers
• St. Rose of Lima: Latin America
• St. John Baptist de la Salle: Teachers
• St. Francis de Sales: Writers
Popes have recently named patron saints, but patrons also can be chosen by other individuals or groups. When celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, people can think beyond the corned beef to the man behind the holiday — Ireland’s patron saint.