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Curriculum vitae for a modern patron saint

DUBLIN (Agencies): If you are wondering what qualifications a patron saint for a non-government or Church organisation, political entity or aid group should have, the Irish Times suggests that you could do no better than take a peep at the curriculum vitae of the late sixth and early seventh century Irish missionary to Europe, St. Columban.

“In a world where civil and ecclesiastical authority is often seen as remote and sometimes dysfunctional, the willingness of (St.) Columban to challenge secular and ecclesiastical authority has a contemporary relevance,” the Irish Times editorialised on August 26.

It argues that the founder of monasteries is the most important person from Ireland to have lived in continental Europe, because of his willingness to challenge the unjust ways of kings and bishops and, even popes.

He also bequeathed a legacy of monasteries to carry his charism into the future.

In a biography on the life of St. Columban, Jonas of Susa describes the sixth century in Ireland as “the spiritual springtime of a people who had only recently received the Christian faith.”

In 590AD, St. Columban and 12 companions embarked at Bangor in county Down, Ireland, and over the following 25 years he established monasteries in eastern Gaul.

However, his constant challenges to the kings and ecclesiastical authorities saw him banished from Luxeuil in 610AD and eventually he was ordered to be deported back to Ireland.

However, the ship taking him back to his homeland struck a freak storm and turned back to shore.

The captain was convinced that his holy passenger had invoked the wrath of God upon them and refused to keep St. Columban on board. The Irish saint and his companions then turned north, travelling towards modern day Paris and as far as the Rhine.

Columban finally made his way to Italy and set up a monastery in Bobbio, where he died in 615AD.

“Columban does not dismiss or reject ecclesiastical authority. In fact, he recognised that Rome was the spring and source of Irish Christianity. Nevertheless Columban had no problem advising or even admonishing someone he considered senior to himself, namely Pope Boniface IV,” the Irish newspaper points out.

As the European Union discusses whether to proclaim St. Columban as its patron saint or not, the Irish Times relates that on 27 April 2004, on the eve of the accession of 10 new member states, the then-Irish president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Columban in Bobbio.

Cox said that the values which St. Columban promoted are crucial for the wellbeing of contemporary European society.

St. Columban also had a profound respect for nature and Johnston McMaster, from the Irish School of Ecumenism, is scheduled to speak on what he might tell contemporary political, religious and economic leaders about the need for respect for the natural world at a conference in early September.

The Irish Times also points out that St. Columban was the first person to be recorded as using the phrase, We Irish, in a letter to Pope Gregory the Great.

The organiser of the conference, Father Sean McDonagh, told the Irish Times, “Since all Irish people are heirs to Columban’s legacy, I hope that, during the next two years, scholars, the government, artists, musicians and the media will explore the life and influence of St. Columban in early medieval Europe and his relevance in the 21st century.”


Between now and 2015, several conferences will be held in France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy highlighting the legacy of St. Columban in shaping early mediaeval Europe.

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