Last year, I was working at a public school in an after school program with “kids at risk” run by the YMCA near my home. When March rolled around, I told the kids I wanted to do something with them for St. Patrick’s Day. A few days later when we were cutting out shamrocks one boy asked me, “Miss Katie? Who is Patrick and why do we celebrate Patrick’s Day?”

“Can anybody else answer his question?” I asked, “Does anyone know who St. Patrick is or what St. Patrick’s day is all about?”

A couple of kids tried to answer, but it struck me that every single one referred to “Patrick.” The word “Saint” did not pass through a single pair of lips other than mine.

I had been told before not to bring up religion with any of the kids. If they asked (which they did as I often wore a Rosary around my wrist) I was to deflect their questions, saying something like, “Well this is what I believe, but you should ask your parents what they think.”

With these constraints, I found myself floundering trying to explain who “Patrick” was with no mention of religion. “Well Patrick was a man who came to Ireland many years ago to, uh . . . ” Evangelize! Spread the gospel! Teach the Irish about Christ! “We associate him with shamrocks because, well . . . he used to use them as a symbol
. . . ” Of the Trinity!

It was impossible. Even if I qualified the statements saying that “some say” or “Irish legend has it” or “Catholics believe,” it would be culturally and historically inaccurate to say that March 17 was anything but a celebration of  Saint  Patrick.

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