Did you know that Saint Patrick wasn’t from Ireland? In fact, Saint Patrick’s real name wasn’t even Patrick—it was actually Maewyn Succat. God used him to plant many churches in Ireland and help spread the gospel across the nation.
To learn more about Saint Patrick, read this short biography from our study God’s Prevailing Work.
Maewyn Succat—known later as Saint Patrick—was born around 385 in Britain to a wealthy decurion—the administrator of a Roman city. Maewyn had an apparently happy childhood until one night, at the age of 16, he was awakened by rough hands yanking him out of bed. Scoti raiders had attacked his family’s estate, and he quickly found himself in a slave ship headed for Ireland.
Once there, Maewyn was sold to Milchu, a Druid priest-chieftain living somewhere along the Slemish Mountains. For six years, Maewyn took care of sheep and pig—but also rediscovered a strength through prayers he once found childish. He wrote later that God’s love sustained him during that time. He found it easier to work on the cold, bleak mountainside when he shared his burdens with his Father.
Convinced by a dream that he could escape, Maewyn ran from his master, traveled hundreds of miles to the coast, found passage on a ship, and eventually made his way back to Britain. Some historians find the tale unbelievable, but we have no other accounts or evidence except Maewyn’s own testimony.
Maewyn then devoted himself to studying for Christian ministry. He devoured the Word, travelling to various places around Europe, always thinking of the people in Ireland. One night, he even dreamed that a man pleaded with him to return to the isle.
The name Patrick comes from the legend of a meeting between Maewyn and Pope Celestine I. The pope called the new bishop “Patricius,” a term perhaps related to the Latin pater civium, or “father of the people.”
Sometime after 430, Patrick used his inheritance to return to Ireland with several companions. He became a new kind of shepherd, leading people to his new Master, Christ. Patrick planted hundreds of churches across the Celtic kingdoms. Along with other Christians like Bishop Palladius, he spread the gospel, ordained ministers, introduced the Latin alphabet, and helped transform the pagan isle that once dragged him into slavery.
Patrick made such an impact on Ireland in part because he pursued generational discipleship. He gave his assemblies the tools they needed to reach out on their own. The church there continued to grow in the decades after his death, and in the sixth century, another missionary named Columba left Ireland to disciple the unreached regions of Scotland. Christian ministers continued to crisscross the Irish Sea with the gospel.
Our 13-lesson study, God’s Prevailing Work: Themes in Church History, AD 30–1517, follows Christianity from the Early Church until the Protestant Reformation. Students will learn about how God used Christians in history like Saint Patrick to advance the spread of the gospel. You can view samples and order through our website.