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Who Was St. Patrick?

Though many of us think we are celebrating Irish culture by dressing like leprechauns or decorating with shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, these fun activities do not fully represent the historical and religious meaning of the holiday. St. Patrick’s Day, also called the Feast of St. Patrick, takes place annually on March 17 as a remembrance of the life of St. Patrick and a celebration of Irish culture and heritage. Of course, there is more to the Irish people than the stereotypes you often find around the holiday, and we encourage you to learn more about their history through the resources available in our library collections.

What do we know about St. Patrick? He was born in southwestern Britain around 388 to a father who was a deacon and whose grandfather was a priest. His connection to Ireland occurred at the age of 16 when pirates kidnapped him and took him to Ireland. He made his way back to Britain but returned to Ireland as an evangelical bishop. Records reveal that he baptized thousands of people. 

Following his death in approximately 461, the legend of St. Patrick grew. Accounts from the seventh century onward describe a legendary individual who performed miracles. Though venerated as St. Patrick, he was never officially canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, in part because there wasn’t a formal canonization process during his life. Claims that St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland are an exaggeration (Palladius was probably the first Christian to Ireland), but St. Patrick certainly was a successful missionary. 

St. Patrick’s Day has become a global celebration of Irish culture. Cities with large populations of Irish immigrants such as Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston have large parades. The city of Chicago even has a tradition dating back to 1962 of dyeing the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re interested in learning about how the people of Malibu have celebrated the holiday throughout the years, you can search our collection of The Malibu Times.

While you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, take a moment to reflect on the missionary work of St. Patrick and the impact he has had on Ireland and throughout the world. And as always, Pepperdine Libraries has many resources to help you with your scholarship. Start with searching our catalog, and if looking for help with a research paper about St. Patrick, don’t hesitate to ask us a question


Bieler, L. “Patrick, St.” In New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., 10:952–55. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2003.

Freeman, Philip. St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Mulhall, James. “Saint Patrick Was Never Officially Made a Saint by the Catholic Church.” The Irish Post, March 17, 2016. https://www.irishpost.com/life-style/saint-patrick-never-officially-made-saint-catholic-church-83345.

“St. Patrick.” In Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., 12:135–36. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2004.

“St. Patrick’s Day: Origins, Meaning & Celebrations,” March 16, 2021. https://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/history-of-st-patricks-day.

Thompson, E. A. Who Was Saint Patrick? Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 1999.