Saints of Scotland : St Patrick

The roots of Patrick are difficult to trace, whilst Ireland maintains his place as their patron, there is a strong link between Scotland and the patron. Canon Gerard Conroy, Parish Priest at St Patrick’s Dumbarton considers our latest saint of Scotland.

Patrick_Altarpiece

The altarpiece depicting St Patrick is in the crypt chapel of the Scots College. It was donated when the college was built by St Patrick’s High School in Coatbridge which merged with in 2006 to make up part of St Andrew’s High School.

Living and working in Dumbarton as I do, I hope I can be excused for suggesting that St Patrick was born in this area and grew up here, rather than various other suggestions now popular for his origins. Places such as Gaul, or Cumbria or Wales just don’t seem to have the same kudos and – I smugly tell myself – frankly smack more of the modern scholar’s penchant for questioning everything for the sake of sales for their latest book. I will stick stubbornly to my view that he was born on our doorstep before being appropriated by a band of pirates as their property to do with as they liked and what they liked was to sell him into slavery; an unknown outcast in the last land on earth.

The unsettling truth, however, is that the more you read about St Patrick, the less certain all your certainties seem to be. One man is suddenly transmogrified into several figures who, historians have reason to think, did exist but whose activities were appropriated by this figure Patrick who then cast these others into the shade of anonymity.

The two texts that supply any real information about him are his confession and the letter he wrote to the soldiers of Coroticus, the ones he calls his ‘own people’ though he now disowns them because of their actions. Coroticus, was a King of the Britons whose Capital was at Alt Clut, better known to us nowadays as Dumbarton. These soldiers, who were supposedly Christians themselves, under the direction of Coroticus, raided Ireland and killed some newly Baptised people and took others off as slaves, something with which Patrick was familiar. His letter was an extremely strongly worded letter of excommunication. The fury of Patrick is evident in his words and his condemnation unequivocal, He says,

‘It would take too long to discuss or argue every single case, or to sift through the whole of the Law for precise witness against such greed. Sufficient to say, greed is a deadly deed. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods. You shall not murder. A homicide may not stand beside Christ. Even “He who bates his brother is to be labelled murderer.” Or, “He who does not love his brother dwells in death.” therefore how much more guilty is he, who has stained his own hands in the blood of the sons of God, those very children whom only just now he has won for himself in this distant land by means of our feeble encouragement. Rom. 13:9 Exod. 20:13, 17 I Jn. 3:15, 14.

These are words that show his love for the people of Ireland, a love that has turned to fury at the wrong done to them and perhaps made a fury hotter by the fact that it was fellow Christians who had betrayed their faith by such actions.

Reading these words from a distance of 1500 years, we may find our sense of injustice somewhat cooler than Patrick’s. But is it simply a matter of time having passed that makes it seem remote from our urgent concern? Is it simply that time has passed and these events are ancient history, a characteristic of an age long gone that allows us to cluck our disapproval and say we would never sit quietly by and allow the things that happened in our fathers’ day to happen now? But they do happen now. Slavery is worse now than it ever was, there are more people living and working in slave conditions now than ever. And it is not just slavery, there are so many injustices and wrongs in our world, so many sins, so much evil openly vaunting its power and influence in our world that all the good that Patrick did seems to have hidden its head in shame or been driven into hiding by its enemies.

Patrick_Window


The window depicting Patrick is seen on the stairs leading to the college crypt. It was donated when the college was completed in 1964 by St Patrick’s High School, Dumbarton.

Reading these words from a distance of 1500 years, we may find our sense of injustice somewhat cooler than Patrick’s. But is it simply a matter of time having passed that makes it seem remote from our urgent concern? Is it simply that time has passed and these events are ancient history, a characteristic of an age long gone that allows us to cluck our disapproval and say we would never sit quietly by and allow the things that happened in our fathers’ day to happen now? But they do happen now. Slavery is worse now than it ever was, there are more people living and working in slave conditions now than ever. And it is not just slavery, there are so many injustices and wrongs in our world, so many sins, so much evil openly vaunting its power and influence in our world that all the good that Patrick did seems to have hidden its head in shame or been driven into hiding by its enemies.

We cannot blame remoteness of time for an indifference or timidity that has settled on us. Acedia has settled on our world and taken root in our souls, not just as individuals but as a society, as a culture, even we must acknowledge as Christians.

St Patrick wrote in his letter:

Which of the saints would not refuse to feast and decline the company of such men? See how they have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians? Why, they devote their lives to plunder! Miserable men, they have no idea how they feed poison, food that surely kills, to their friends and even to their own children; just as Eve never realised that she was handing out certain death to her own man, her husband…

But often we seem more concerned with being part of the comfort and ease that surrounds us.

We have enough uncertainties in life to stifle our action. We need more of Patrick’s love and commitment to God and his people. His letter was a call to repentance, a call to acknowledge their sins, it was a door he opened to the mercy and forgiveness of God, but he knew well the consequences of persisting in sin, he knew the damage it does in life and in death. Sometimes we need reminded of that: we can only see the truth of the darkness when we look more clearly to the light.

CanonConroy_DumbartonFather Gerard Canon Conroy is the current Parish Priest of St Patrick’s Dumbarton having served in the parish since 2007. Since his ordination in 1982 in the same church, he has worked in Partick, Faifley and Dalmuir as well as spending some time at Blairs College, Aberdeen and five years in the mid-nineties as Spiritual Director of the Scots College, Rome.

The parish of St Patrick’s have been closely linked with the Scots College. The secondary school of the same name in the parish donated the St Patrick window featured in this article. The St Patrick altarpiece was donated by the former high school of the same name in Coatbridge.

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