In the name of St. Patrick

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City, on my most recent visit in 2016

I was sixteen years old the first time I went to New York City—that’s the same age, according to his own writing, that St. Patrick was kidnapped in Britain and carried to slavery in Ireland.

I didn’t know this fact at the time. I arrived in the city that long-ago day with my high school drama club, excited that his cathedral was one of our designated destinations.

Raised in the Baptist church, I had only a rudimentary understanding of the canonization of saints. A shadowy working knowledge in which St. Patrick loomed very large, for a personal reason:

My grandfather, born in rural North Carolina in 1906, was named Columbus St. Patrick.

Why remains a mystery to this day.

Of course there were stories of Irish heritage. Granddaddy maintained that his paternal grandfather came to America from Ireland with his brothers, but the timeline is knotty, the facts obscure, the story too piecemeal to be reconstructed. He dimly remembered his grandfather talking about carving a dugout, a small boat made from a hollow log, in Dublin.

That’s the only tiny jewel of Irish family lore I have, besides my grandfather’s middle name.

Oh, and the surname of my other grandfather, whom I barely knew: Riley.

Just this year, my family took the DNA ancestry plunge. I learned that a good bit of my blood really does run green.

I like to think it was calling to me when I first entered the cathedral, tears inexplicably welling in my eyes. It had to be more than the curiosity of Granddaddy’s name being St. Patrick, although I was mindful of it at the moment.

Maybe my emotion rose in response to the breathtaking splendor, the deep hush, the sense of pure awe . . . and something utterly unnameable. I would later learn that this profound monument to God, named for His missionary saint, was built in part by contributions of poor Irish immigrants, thousands of them. Wealthy citizens donated, too. The cathedral website states:  “St. Patrick’s Cathedral proves the maxim that no generation builds a cathedral. It is, rather, a kind of ongoing conversation linking generations past, present and future.”

—An ongoing conversation linking generations past, present, and future.

A conversation of love. Of extreme sacrifice. Of perseverance. Of devotion. Of faith.

Of blessing. Now and for all time.

The pillars of my life, built on foundations laid by my grandfather.

Until we meet again, Columbus St. Patrick, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

*******

 

Previous posts about my grandfather:

Red rubber boots

A long time ago, in a Galaxie far, far away

My grandfather, St. Patrick with my favorite photo of him, circa 1924-25

First do no harm – on nature and wisdom

What is literacy – for reading isn’t always about words

Happy place

A slice of long ago – 1937 and plowing with mules

27 thoughts on “In the name of St. Patrick

      • Thank you, Christine. I decided at the last to link the stories of him as an archived homage – the lessons I learned from him and his influence on my life being immense. See the 1920s picture of him if you get a moment. I absolutely treasure it. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much. It’s a fun and festive celebration here, full of folkore, often with much revelry even for those not of Irish descent. You’ll likely get a better sense of how people celebrate from other slices; a strong sense of Irish identity wasn’t instilled in me as a child. All I had were the whispers of Irish roots and, of course, my grandfather being named St. Patrick. So for me the day becomes one of quiet remembrance and awe. But – today my Irish blood does sing. 🙂

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  1. What a beautiful description of the cathedral! I love how you wove the story of your grandfathers and your ancestry into this memory. The ending lines of your slice are moving to me also, especially the last line from a church hymn that I love. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

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    • Happy St. Patrick’s Day! It’s impossible for me not to think of my grandfather on this day. The cathedral is one of my favorite places to visit. I feel I could sit in there forever, absorbing the stillness and grandeur. So glad you found the ending lines moving; tears welled as I wrote them. Thank you 🙂

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  2. A reflectively perfect St. Patrick’s Day slice. An ongoing conversation linking generations. Married into a fully Irish family not so far from the sod, I longed to belong. After having my DNA analyzed, turns out like you, I belong too.

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    • Yea! We are kindred on more than one level! I didn’t grow up being steeped in Irishness; I suppose my ancestors who came here long ago didn’t try to preserve that identity. I feel the loss of it but find it “the pull” of one’s ancestry so fascinating. Thank you for your words & Happy St. Patrick’s Day full of Irish blessings. ☘️

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  3. Wow! You’ve left me thinking about my Grandpa Mulligan’s roots in New York City. My ancestors did not preserve their history,but strove to be American not Irish. Thanks for the way you wrote to spark interest in me in my own ancestry.

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    • Your story is like mine, then. 🙂 What a glorious old Irish name, Mulligan! I suspect treasures await you if you research your Irish roots – and of course, you must share! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ☘️

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    • Thank you, Jaana! I also love stories of other cultures, their histories and how their beliefs came to be. I discover again and again that the threads from which we’re knitted are more alike than different. 🙂

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  4. Half-Irish, raised Catholic, completely agreeing with the awe cathedrals can inspire. Your post makes me wish I had spent more time with my Irish grandparents, but alas, military life kept us away most of the time. How interesting that “St” was also part of your grandfather’s middle name.

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    • For the life of me, Chris, I wish I knew how St. Patrick (spelled exactly thus) was given as my grandfather’s name. His brothers had Bible names – James, Job, Hosea, Asa, Enoch. The family was Methodist and Baptist. Before my father died he was convinced that our ancestors were all Protestant. But – there’s that one grain of a story set in Dublin, and to be named St. — I am convinced otherwise. There’s Catholicism, somewhere, in our shrouded, mystical past.

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  5. That picture at the end of your slice got to me. Such a poignant post as we realize their are reminders of lost loved ones surrounding us; a visit to a cathedral, a holiday, a photograph. That is how we deal with loss, by knowing they are never lost to us. I don’t have the courage to take a DNA test, not because of ancestry, but for so many of the ethical and privacy concerns that have been raised, but I am super curious how much green runs in my veins-my paternal grandfather came as an orphan from Ireland and 3 of my 4 grandparents are Irish (the 4th is English) I wonder what else lies in that DNA! Thanks for this slice that got me thinking.

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    • Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful reply, Paula. The picture was a last minute decision. When I got it placed with the text – I cried. But they’re tears of immense gratitude for my grandfather and his steadfastness, his sacrifices. As to the ancestry testing: The kits warn people that they may learn upsetting things, so be sure before taking the plunge – I know that’s NOT your particular issue but to me it links with the ethical piece, over-simply put here, that there’s potential for great harm and great good in so many things. I opted out of portions except ancestry. But -back to you – it is natural to wonder about “what else” lies in the DNA; had a little surprise nugget myself! Not alarming but intriguing, so suddenly I am keenly interested know the story of my ancestors across other continents! After all, we are knitted from these stories! And Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and yours. ☘️

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  6. This is a beautiful tribute to your heritage and your grandfather. Your writing is so elegant and the details tell your story. I loved the opening – “I was sixteen years old the first time I went to New York City—that’s the same age, according to his own writing, that St. Patrick was kidnapped in Britain and carried to slavery in Ireland.” It is so important that we remember and honor our past (where we came from). Thank you for sharing. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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    • I so appreciate your gracious words! Glad you enjoyed the opening; until I began writing this post, I hadn’t even realized my age on visiting the cathedral was about the same as the pre-saint Patrick when he was kidnapped. Imagine choosing to go back to a country that enslaved you as a missionary and becoming its patron saint-! I only wish I had that piece of the puzzle, why the name was given my grandfather (for it’s pretty strange). By the time I was old enough to ask, no one knew. Thanks so much for reading. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you also!

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  7. Another great post on your grandfather. Yesterday our priest spoke about St. Patrick and told us that he was not born in Ireland- a fact that many of us did not know. I speak about this briefly in today’s blog post. I absolutely love St. Patrick’s Church, Fran. It is rich in spirituality and architecture.

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    • Thank you, Carol. I find it amazing that young, pre-saint Patrick (which wasn’t his real name; he referred to himself as such) chose to return to the land of his captors as a missionary. I know there’s a St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin, too. -Off to find your post now!

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  8. So beautiful! I love this story, Fran. I feel your grandfather’s presence in it.. I also see your eyes filling up with tears from both awe and remembrance.. I hear the green in your blood when I read your stories.
    St. Patrick’s Cathedral has always been special for me too. We have so much in common! I grew up in the suburbs of NY and my mom took me to mass there from time to time. The grandeur and memories reside within me too.
    Perfect post for St. Patrick’s Day. I think you have a much deeper Irish side than you are yet fully aware of.

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