Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and that got me to thinking: who was Saint Patrick, and why do we celebrate a day for him?
I must confess, I really don’t know much about Saint Patrick other than he is the patron saint of Ireland. There are stories about him driving the snakes out of Ireland; but I never gave them much credence. I also didn’t believe that he invented green beer. I have a pretty strong hunch that inventing an alcoholic beverage does not put one on the fast track toward canonization – but I could be wrong.
So then, why is this the big day? Why is Saint Patrick the saint that we celebrate? I know that Saint Joseph’s Day is March 19th because I share a name with him; and when I was a kid, I would get a card in the mail from my grandmother with five dollars in it (enough to last a kid a whole month back then). So, this was a big thing for me. And yet, Saint Joseph (the earthly father of Jesus) does not have a day celebrated like Saint Patrick’s Day. This warranted further investigation. Good thing I know how to spell “Google”.
The first step was to find out how many saints there were. I knew that to become a saint, you had to have done some pretty good things in your life. That’s probably why there aren’t a lot of athletes on the list. Hitting home runs and throwing touchdown passes doesn’t quite stack up to things like healing lepers or causing a miracle to happen. I won’t get into what happened in 1969, when the so-called “Miracle Mets” won the World Series. I think there was alien intervention in that series, so it doesn’t count.
Since a saint has to have caused a “documented” miracle, I didn’t expect there to be that many, maybe a few hundred at tops. Boy was I wrong! There are tons of these people. Why there are even 3 (three) Saint Augustines alone. Can you imagine? I mean, how rare is that? First of all, your parents have got to name you Augustine. Then, you have to get through school without being killed by the bullies for being named Augustine. Maybe that’s the miracle. Maybe that explains it. Anyhow, there are: Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Augustine of Hippo (must have had a zoo in that town), and Saint Augustine Zhao Rong and Companions (I guess that was like a tag-team canonization).
So, what was the final total? No one knows. It seems like a few saints were named before anyone wrote them down – which seems kind of dumb if you ask me. If you are going to all the trouble of nominating someone to become a saint, you would think that someone would write it down along the way. But, who am I to criticize?
Here is what I found out: There are over 10,000 named saints and beati from history, the Roman Martyology and Orthodox sources, but no definitive “head count”. Canonization, the process the Church uses to name a saint, has only been used since the tenth century.
So, where does Saint Patrick stack up in this list? What makes him so special besides the cool hat in the picture up there? Here is what Wikipedia has to say: Saint Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the “Apostle of Ireland”, he is the primary patron saint of Ireland, along with Saints Brigit and Columba. The dates of his life cannot be fixed with certainty but, on a widespread interpretation, he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century. He is generally credited with being the first bishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland.
When he was about 16, he was captured by Irish pirates from his home in Britain, and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland. In later life, he served as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on 17 March, which is said to be the date of his death. It is celebrated inside and outside Ireland as a religious and cultural holiday. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation; it is also a celebration of Ireland itself.
I guess this is some pretty serious stuff that along the way we turned into a way to sell green things and drink all day. Kind of makes you wonder. And it ALSO makes me wonder about the poor guys at the bottom of the list, the ones who never got a parade or a drink or a pin saying to kiss them. Here are some lesser-known saints.
LESSER KNOWN SAINTS
Saint Waldo the Insignificant – Saint Waldo was known for being a good-deed-doer who didn’t like recognition, then again, that kind of is the definition of what a saint is, isn’t it? Waldo was known for wandering the crowded markets of Europe during the Renaissance period, wearing his red and white robe and spectacles. He would give food to the poor when they weren’t looking. And he would hide from those seeking to thank him. Later in the 20th Century, books were created, asking young people to try and find him from within the crowds of people pictured on each page. If you found him, that was the real miracle.
Saint Biff the Mighty, of Dundee – The first Anglo-Saxon to be named Biff, Saint Biff earned the admiration of his followers merely by surviving with that name. Later, when it was found out that his name was shortened from Bifflesford, people demanded that he return the prize money he got from becoming a saint, but it was too late. Saint Biff had already blown his award in the casinos on slot machines and loose women. Thus a trend was started.
Saint Betty of Boop – Once a dancer in the famous Folies Bergère, Saint Betty was the patron saint of the French underground, the resistance fighters of World War II who used to text message Corporal LeBeau (see Hogan’s Heroes), and would smuggle food into the prison camps so that we could have a 1960’s TV sitcom about the wacky world of mass death. There must be a miracle in there somewhere.
Saint Larry the Abused – The only man to survive the question, “Do these pants make my butt look fat?” Saint Larry replied honestly with his quip, “No, your butt makes your butt look fat,” and was promptly rushed to the hospital where he spent 39 weeks in a coma. Upon his miraculous resuscitation, Larry uttered his famous catchphrase, “I should have said no.” After that, he asked for a cheeseburger.
Saint Charles-Elmer of San Antonio – The inventor of Fritos, the beloved snack of millions, I have been pushing for his canonization ever since I tasted the salty corn snacks back in the 1950’s. A guy can dream.
The list goes on and on, but sadly I do not. There comes a time when a person must cut his losses and withdraw; and this seems like that time. For more information about saints or anything at all, just visit your local library and tell them “Joe sent me”. If they still let you inside, you are all set. Happy research!