By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 1, 2010
Growing up in Ireland, Father Darragh Griffith remembers his boyhood impression of St. Patrick as someone completely unlike himself.
“It was only when I got to seminary did I really discover St. Patrick, the real person,” said Father Griffith. “Reading the confessions (of St. Patrick) revealed a different St. Patrick. Here was a person I could relate to. Here was someone who was somewhat human. He went through much trial and tribulation. He totally depended on Christ.”
As Father Griffith learned more about the facts of the saint, he felt drawn to his story of suffering and triumph and related St. Patrick’s story to that of many biblical figures.
“If we go beyond the folklore and mythology and fables to the real St. Patrick, he is a fascinating man, whose life contains many similarities to biblical figures and is a challenge to us priests and seminarians,” he said.
The pastor of Holy Family Church in Marietta spoke as homilist at the March 17 St. Patrick’s Day Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at the Cathedral of Christ the King. He talked about St. Patrick’s legacy and how it has personally affected his life as a Catholic and as a priest.
St. Patrick’s physical slavery in Ireland was “a door into divine friendship,” Father Griffith said. It gave Patrick the chance to discover prayer as true conversation with God, allowing him to turn an experience of alienation and exile into a life of holiness.
“Patrick is able to survive these harsh and lonely territories of exile precisely because it keeps the beauty of God alive in his heart,” Father Griffith said. “The spirit of God sustains him in the lonely times of betrayal, misunderstanding and scandal. Indeed, the inner beauty of the divine intimacy Patrick had with God transfigures any outer bleakness. This inner intimacy with God brings his soul alive.”
Hundreds of native Irish and Irish-Americans wearing green attended the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass, sponsored by the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta.
At the end of the Mass, a letter from Mary McAleese, president of Ireland, was read. The letter echoed statements made by Father Griffith and also noted the importance of a global family to preserve Ireland’s traditions and culture.
“Thanks to our global family the link with Ireland has been kept alive over generations and our culture introduced to countless millions throughout the world,” read Mairead Reid. “St. Patrick’s Day is marked and relished in a myriad of places in a celebration that is both local and global and that is quintessentially Irish, yet warmly welcoming of friends from other cultures and traditions.”
The Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta, a group founded in 1858 to promote Irish culture in the Atlanta area, is a strong link in the chain of people and organizations preserving Irish culture. In addition to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass, the group also supports a parade in downtown Atlanta, a memorial to Father Thomas O’Reilly, one of the first Irish-born priests to serve the area, and monthly meetings for fellowship.
Following the Mass, a reception was held in the parish hall. Many poured coffee or tea and took a slice from plates of homemade soda bread and scones and chatted in the appropriately decorated hall or watched a group of young girls entertaining with traditional Irish dancing.
The St. Patrick’s Day Mass this year kept drawing the focus back to the real person of St. Patrick and how his life can be an inspiration for Catholics as they prepare for Easter.
“As we journey together through Lent to Easter, we know our journey is a journey of holiness. It is a journey from death to life, suffering to joy,” Father Griffith said. “We journey together as a community as we pray the Stations of the Cross, go to confession and glean grace from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Today, midway through that journey, we ask Patrick to walk with us again as he did with the Irish, and inspire us so that we may celebrate Easter with renewed hearts.”