Missions History: Saint Patrick of Ireland

I pray to God to give me perseverance and to deign that I be a faithful witness to Him to the end of my life for my God.” 

-Saint Patrick of Ireland


On March 17, Irish people around the world celebrate one of their favourite historic figures, Saint Patrick. Although we would disagree with the revelry, drinking, and carnality often connected with St. Paddy’s Day, its namesake was a godly man and a faithful missionary. Let’s take a look at the inspiring true story of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

Growing up in a Roman Christian home in Britain, young Patrick had no interest in the faith of his fathers. Although his grandfather was a priest and his father a deacon, he lived a wild and rebellious life. Patrick’s world was turned upside down when he was captured by Irish raiders at age 16. He would spend the next six years in slavery.  

Gradually, God began to soften his heart to the gospel of Christ. In our prison ministries, we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and share it with others. As he tended sheep on the rolling Irish hillsides, Patrick would pray for hours. During this time, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ and began to live for God instead of living for himself. Patrick also learned much about the Celtic people, their culture, and their false religion. After six years in Ireland, God provided a way for him to escape and return to England.  

There, Patrick trained for the ministry and faithfully served in an English church. After almost 20 years, Patrick had a life-changing vision. He later wrote, “I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland…he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The voice of the Irish…We appeal to you holy servant boy, to come home and walk among us.’”[1] Deeply impressed, Patrick awoke.  

To most people, returning to Ireland—to a place of painful memories and certain danger—would be a foolish decision. Yet Patrick had seen firsthand the cry of a people held in the death-grip of false religion. Some people would sacrifice their firstborn children to the sun-god in return for a plentiful harvest. Slavery and violence were rampant.

As God sent Joseph into slavery for the salvation of many people (Genesis 50:20), so God had sent Patrick into slavery so he could show the Irish people the true way of salvation. His pain now had purpose. Because of his slavery, the people of Ireland could be freed from slavery to their sins. (If you’d like to know how you can have your sins forgiven and how you can overcome addictions, contact us at our prison ministries.)

Patrick returned to Ireland with a newfound mission—to shine the light of the gospel into the spiritual darkness of Ireland. Writer David Mathis explains his approach, “Patrick knew the Irish well enough to engage them where they were, and build authentic gospel bridges into their society and culture. He wanted to see the gospel grow in Irish soil, rather than pave it over with a Roman road.” [2]

He sought to convert the chiefs first, who would then lead their people in embracing Christianity. With a team of missionaries, Patrick travelled from tribe to tribe, evangelizing the people and establishing indigenous churches. 

For 28 years, Patrick served faithfully among the Irish people. Through his ministry, almost 700 churches were established in Ireland; an estimated 100,000 accepted Christ as their Saviour; and many missionaries were sent out to the foreign field. On March 17, 461, Patrick left the shores of Ireland and stepped into Heaven.  

From a rebellious boy to a godly slave to a fiery missionary, the life of Saint Patrick shows us that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). His ways are much higher, wiser, and better than ours. When God calls you to do something, step out in faith. Learn to trust His wisdom and faithfulness. As Saint Patrick learned well, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)


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1.     Liam de Paor, Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age, Dublin: Four Courts. 1993. 100.

2.     David Mathis, The Mission of Saint Patrick, Desiring God (March 17, 2013)