Here’s a saint study about St. Patrick, complete with lesson ideas and activities.
By Kate Daneluk
We know that Irish immigrants have greatly influenced our modern American culture and especially the Catholic Church in the United States. The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has taken on a life of its own, often with little recognition for the saint himself and the example of holiness he has set for us. St. Patrick is a model of forgiveness, long-suffering, bravery, persistence, prayer, compassion, and deep love of God.
About St. Patrick
St. Patrick grew up in Britain at the dawn of the 5th century, when Britain was a part of the extensive, Christian Roman Empire. As part of a Roman family, Patrick was an educated and well-provided for teen when he was kidnapped during a pirate raid. He was brought to Ireland, which was ruled by various pagan kings and tribal chiefs. A chieftain in northeast Ireland bought him as a slave to use as a shepherd in the Slemish Mountains. This was long, hard, lonely work and Patrick found himself turning to his faith. His father, a deacon, had taught him his faith well and was continuously praying for his missing son. In the quiet, Patrick could hear the call of God. He spent hours each day in prayer and felt God’s presence protecting and guiding him in a powerful way.
After six years of slavery, Patrick had a dream telling him how to escape. He followed the angel’s directions and was reunited with his family. Certainly, the young man who came home was greatly changed from the young boy who had been taken years ago. Pensive and fervent in his faith, Patrick was often tormented by visions of the “Voice of the Irish” calling him back to them. Patrick began studying for the priesthood which included over 20 years of study in France.
Once ordained, Patrick fulfilled his destiny as a missionary to Ireland. The Church had a small presence in Ireland connected to Arles. Patrick, who had been ordained bishop, set about evangelizing, baptizing, building churches and monasteries, ordaining deacons and priests and even creating dioceses and working with Rome to appoint bishops. It is said that he baptized over 120,000. He transformed Ireland into the first entirely Christian nation outside of the Roman Empire. The structures and models he created have been replicated throughout Europe. Ireland was given faith and structure, an entire recreation of its civilization, and a system of education through the monastic communities.
While Ireland isn’t a large country, one can imagine the challenges of accomplishing all this in the 5th century. This long, tiring, dangerous work was both physically and mentally challenging. Patrick was an inspiring teacher and evangelist and God gifted his faith with numerous miracles to ensure his success. His missionary zeal, courage, and trust in God’s protection kept him going for 29 years of this work until his death at the ripe age of 76 in Saul.
So often, St. Patrick is portrayed as a religious superhero, a character like out of a comic book. The reality is that Patrick is a boy who when faced with great loss and hardship turned to God instead of to despair. He turned to God and trusted in Him so deeply, that he became a powerful and often, miraculous agent from which God did great wonders and brought souls to Heaven. Coping with the evils and injustices of this world is such a challenge for our students. The example of Patrick teaches us that when we feel most alone, God is our best and most faithful friend.
Fun facts about St. Patrick
St. Patrick is the patron saint of:
- The Dioceses of New York, Newark, Boston, Rolla, Missouri, Loiza, Puerto Rico, Melbourne, and Murica
- Catholic Relief Services has asked us to turn to St. Patrick for victims of human trafficking.
The Miracles of St. Patrick:
- Miraculous protection from pain and damage from cold, hunger, or fatigue during long periods of prayer
- Visions and dreams with messages from God.
- Miracles of nature to protect and demonstrate God’s power against the pagan gods.
- Becoming invisible to the eyes of enemies.
- Passing through locked doors.
- Miraculous protections from poison and fire.
- Healing and raising people from the dead.
St. Patrick’s Titles
- Apostle to the Irish
- Enlightener of Ireland
St. Patrick in your classroom:
The life of St. Patrick can be utilized to help provide a Catholic perspective with several topics across the curriculum:
- History/Social Studies – civil rights, slavery, human trafficking, late Roman Empire, spread of Christianity in Europe
- Geography – Ireland/Britain/Europe
- Literature – topics of forgiveness, loneliness, kidnapping, redemption, mission, persistence, character development and maturity
- Science – Weather and fire and how the miracles of St. Patrick defy their nature. States of matter (miracle in which God froze a cup of Patrick’s wine to remove the poison)
- Religion – Trinity, suffering, holy orders, faith, trust in God, evangelization, waiting for God’s time
Activities besides green cookies and leprechaun houses:
- Reading and discussion (grades 3 and up): Either read aloud or have the class read an age-appropriate biography of St. Patrick. Follow up with discussion questions (Adapt as needed for comprehension and vocabulary. These questions are designed for older students.):
- What would it be like to be taken from your home and then forced to work alone almost all of the time? How do you think Patrick felt? What would you do?
- People who feel lonely often fall into despair. How did Patrick avoid despair?
- Patrick prayed to God to save him from slavery and his prayers were answered six years later. Throughout this time he continued to pray faithfully. It can be hard to stay faithful when it doesn’t seem our prayers have been answered right away. Can you think of a time that your prayers didn’t seem to be answered? How did you respond?
- What did Patrick do to prepare for the job of bringing the Gospel to an entire land? Did his studies give him all the tools he needed for this job?
- How can we tell that God truly called Patrick to the work of bringing the faith to Ireland?
- Creative Writing (grades 5 and up) – There are many legends and stories describing the miracles that protected St. Patrick and helped to prove the power of the one true God to the pagan peoples of Ireland. Have the students choose one of these stories and recount it from a particular point of view, such as a servant to a king, or a child watching from behind her mother’s skirts.
- Research Project (grades 7 and up) – Students can research and write a summary on slavery and human trafficking in our world today, including what action we can take to help in the problem. Emphasize that prayer is a true way to help the victims and have each student compose a prayer to St. Patrick for the victims of slavery and human trafficking.
- Shamrock Art (grades K – 3) – St. Patrick is famous for using to the shamrock to help explain the mystery of the Trinity. St. Patrick’s Day is a perfect time to discuss the Trinity and follow up with a craft project depicting each leaf as a person of the Trinity. Use either words or symbolic pictures depending on your students’ ages. Glue larger shamrocks to painted cardboard tubes to create a meaningful centerpiece for children to bring home.
- The Breastplate of St. Patrick (grades K-4) – This beautiful prayer by the Saint can be printed and glued to “breastplate armor” cut from poster board and then decorated by the students with paint and crepe paper. Older students can transcribe the prayer as a handwriting exercise. Teach your students one of the songs inspired by St. Patrick’s Breastplate and they can wear their armor as they perform. This prayer provided Patrick with God’s protection as he traveled dangerous paths on his mission in Ireland.
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.