St. Patrick’s Day – What’s in a Name?

St. Patrick’s Day – What’s in a Name?

by Paul Brian Campbell  SJ                  U.S.A.                                            16.03.2023

St Patrick resizedOne of the oddities of our faith is the way we play fast and loose with our saints’ names and origins.

My favorite example is St. Anthony of Padua. Not only wasn’t he from Padua, he wasn’t christened as Anthony. He was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in Lisbon, and adopted the name Anthony when he took vows as a Franciscan friar. Leaving Portugal, he first went to Morocco before landing in Sicily on his way home, except he never got there. He lived in various Italian towns until he went to teach in southern France. It was only when he was appointed the Franciscan Provincial for northern Italy that he decided to settle in Padua.

The founder of the Jesuits never lost his designation as a Basque from Loyola, but he was christened as Ignaki [in Basque] or Inigo [in Spanish.] One theory is that he adopted the name Ignatius apparently because he believed it was a variant of his own and would be better understood in France and Italy. Others say he took the name in about 1537 in honor of Saint Ignatius of Antioch.

All of this brings me in a roundabout way to St. Patrick of Ireland. In his writings, he refers to himself as Patricius which in Irish becomes Padraig. We have relatively little information about his life, but it is pretty well established that he wasn’t from Ireland but was Romano-British.

It isn’t that strange for a nation’s patron saint to be from somewhere else – think of Italy having the Palestinian St. Joseph as their patron – but I have always been happy that Ireland’s saint isn’t from the island itself. I hope that it speaks to a certain openness among the Irish and we certainly haven’t been slow to share him with other people.

In the United States, where I now live, St. Patrick’s Day has become more of a secular celebration than a religious one [although our local bishop has given a dispensation so we can eat corned beef and cabbage on a Friday in Lent!] You’ll have heard about our parades and how Chicago dyes its river green, but the most extraordinary “tribute” to St. Patrick I’ve found is in my local supermarket where there is a large stand featuring “Sour Cream & Shamrock” flavour potato crisps.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – tomorrow!