St. Patrick & How He Influenced Freemasonry & The Revolutionary War

Maewyn Succat, Patrick’s given Roman name, was born to a wealthy family in the Roman Empire.  The exact location of his birthplace, Bannavem Taburniae, is unknown, but it is believed to be “near the Western sea”, as described in his autobiography, “The Confessio”.  Maewyn’s father was a Christian deacon and minor Roman official, his grandfather was a priest, and his sister is Saint Darerca of Ireland.  It is undoubtedly that Patrick was raised in a Christian household, although there are differing accounts of his conversion to Christianity. Some sources suggest that he converted from paganism while he was a slave in Ireland, while a more likely scenario says that Maewyn was exposed to Christianity throughout his early childhood.

When he was 16 years old, his village was raided by a band of Irish marauders and Maewyn was taken captive.  During this time, the Roman Empire began to lose its power over its ever-expanding empire and such raids were becoming more common.  Young boys like Maewyn were often taken to herd sheep and cattle, while girls were taken to work as servants, cooking and cleaning for the chieftains who owned them.  Maewyn was taken to County Antrim in the north of Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd for a local chieftain on the slopes of Mount Slemish. 

Living in isolation, deprived of food, and lacking proper clothing, Maewyn’s only company was his flock and his ever-growing faith in God.  According to his writings in “The Confessio”, he prayed as many as 100 times a day and 100 times at night.  Six years into his enslavement, an angel appeared to him in a dream and said; “You have fasted well.  Very soon you will return to your native country”.  The angel instructed him to find a ship bound for the European continent, and Maewyn journeyed on foot for 200 miles through peat bogs and forests to reach a port.  Despite being an escaped slave, he was able to convince the crew of a cargo ship to allow him passage.

Upon arriving at the mainland, the ship and its crew became lost for several weeks in a land devoid of food.  The crew grew skeptical of Maewyn’s faith and began to chastise him for his piety.  They questioned why his God was not helping them in their dire state of hunger.  To which Maewyn replied; “Turn in faith with all your hearts to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for Him”.  Immediately after, a stampede of pigs appeared, providing ample food for the crew.  This miraculous event led to Maewyn’s first converts.

Maewyn eventually returned home to his parents, but his religious visions did not stop.  He heard a voice calling him; “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us”.  He understood this to mean he was to return to Ireland to serve the people.  In 418 AD, he was ordained as a Deacon and in 432 AD, he was consecrated as a Bishop and given the name Patricius or Naomh Pádraig in Gaelic.  

With the knowledge of Ireland’s language and customs, his religious training, and his life experiences, Patricius was uniquely suited to convert and baptize the island’s Druid priests, chieftains, and aristocrats.  He successfully converted thousands of individuals before his death on March 17, 461.

Since St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick’s Day is considered a holy day of obligation for Christians in Ireland, who are expected to attend Church services.  Historically, Irish Christians would attend church services and then go about their day.  The priests were eager to remind them not to drink alcohol on such a sacred day.  St. Patrick was relatively unknown outside of Ireland until March 17, 1737, when a group of over two dozen Presbyterians who had emigrated from Northern Ireland gathered to celebrate St. Patrick and formed the Charitable Irish Society to assist distressed Irishmen in America.  The Charitable Irish Society still holds an annual dinner on St. Patrick’s Day to this day.

After that first charitable celebration, St. Patrick’s day remained relatively obscure and continued to simply be a Holy Day of Obligation. Until the Revolutionary War and Brother General George Washington needed to boost his troops’ spirits.

The connection between St. Patrick, the Revolution, and Freemasonry becomes clearer when considering the situation of the Continental Army at Morristown, NJ during the winter of 1779-1780.   The Army was facing the coldest winter in recorded history, with 28 snowstorms from November 1779 until April 1780, burying the encampment under six feet of snow.  The soldiers lived in basic log huts, slept on straw, and huddled together for warmth.  The conditions made it difficult to deliver supplies or hunt forcing the men to go days without food, leading to a loss of morale.  The soldiers were losing the battle without even waging war.  In such dire conditions, a moral boost was desperately needed.

The Irish represented the largest immigrant group to arrive in the colonies in the 1700s, mainly Presbyterians from the Northern Provence of Ulster.  The first celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was in Boston in 1737, but it remained a quiet religious holiday for many years.  The Scotch-Irish who immigrated in these early days were driven from their home by British oppression and had a strong rebellious spirit against the British Crown.  One-quarter to one-half of the Continental Army were Irish born or of close ancestry.  Most of the Generals were born in Ireland or had parents still living in Ireland. 

Brother General George Washington recognized the necessity of boosting morale among the Continental Army during the harsh winter. Brother Washington knowing the Irish heritage among many of his soldiers wanted to show solidarity with the “brave and generous” Irish people who were fighting for their own independence against the English, and declared St. Patrick’s Day a holiday for his troops.  This was the first day off they had in over a year, and it was a much-needed boost for morale.  Although today’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are often festive and lively, Washington emphasized that he expected his troops to celebrate in a disciplined manner and warned that “the celebration of the day will not be attended with the least rioting or disorder.”  Although the celebration may not have involved abundant food and drink, the troops did enjoy a hogshead of rum provided by their commander.

For those who are curious, a “hogshead” is about 63 US gallons. Let’s hope those troops had plenty.

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Quality or Quantity

Quantity or Quality

By: Todd M. Paterek ~ Senior Deacon of Blazing Star Lodge #694 F&AM

It is now September and the Lodges that go dark over the summer months are opening their doors to returning Brethren and hopefully with those Brethren will come a few new good men into the Craft. Membership is a highly debated topic these days.  Are we still looking for quality or has quantity taken over?  I understand the need for numbers and with numbers the odds are you will snag a good man here and there.  Some will drift off, maybe will even continue to pay dues but will never show up to lodge again.  I personally am guilty of not making it to Lodge for most of the 2014-2015 year.  All my Brothers say that it is okay because I just had my tenth child and they understand sometimes the Cable Tow is short.  I even spoke with our secretary and asked why do we have so many Brothers but only 10% show up for Lodge?  Here it was at the end of the Lodge year and me making only my second appearance.  So am I a quantity or a quality Mason?

What makes a man a “Quality Mason”?  A quality Mason is proficient in floor work and memorizes every word for his office as he progresses through the line.  He Volunteers for charity fundraisers.  He sits and speaks gently about being a Mason to any who will listen.  He will teach the newly Raised Brother about the finer point of the Craft.  However, what about the Brother who does not show up to Lodge often because he is busy visiting the sick, donating blood, volunteering at soup kitchens, or his son’s baseball team and daughter’s soccer team?  What about that Brother who was Raised and never came back to Lodge but is well adorned with Masonic tattoos and jewelry?  Will a tattoo or a ring make a man a Mason?

Each of us were Raised a Master Mason.  We are all Brothers, and we are all on the Level.  Each of us has something to offer the Craft.  Unfortunately, sometimes Freemasonry does not have anything to offer us. ~ I can already hear the gasps! ~ So who do we look at to rectify this gap in expectations and to help these Brothers return to Lodge?  Remember that we are all “Quality Masons” with something to offer Freemasonry and something to gain from Freemasonry.

So who needs to rectify this gap?  The tasks fall on each of us.

I need to remember that I am responsible for my Brother.  I need to be there for him in his good times, and his bad times.  I need to reach out and invite my Brothers back home.  I need to make sure that there is reason for him to stay and return each week.  I have to put in the effort to make my newest Brothers feel welcome.  I need to stand next to him at a fundraiser or work on memorizing his lines for his office.  I need to show up and visit him when he is sick or if well enough to give him a ride to Lodge.  I need to seek out what is needed in Freemasonry and bridge that gap.  To me, being a Mason makes me a part of something greater than the individual but also something that is as much here for the individual as the individual is here for Freemasonry.

You need to remember that you are a Mason and that comes some responsibility to the rest of us and to your Lodge.  Just paying dues is not enough; it keeps the lodge solvent but does not keep the Lodge alive.  When you were raised the Brothers in the Lodge saw something in you that they wanted to have around them.  They saw a way to learn through you and if you do not make the effort to get to Lodge you are letting them down and Brothers do not walk away from Brothers.

We are a strong Brotherhood of Better men.  We make each other great by being together.  We share our life experiences with each other to help learn through the experiences of our Brothers.  We break bread and discuss our lives outside of Freemasonry.  We alert each other to possibilities in life and warn each other of dangers.  We celebrate new Brothers, new children, new wives, and holidays.  We mourn together when we lose a Brother to the Great Celestial Lodge in the Sky and wait together for the day we join them in Glory.  Meanwhile, we remain behind in the quarries.  Can you imagine my Brothers, what would it be like mining the quarry alone?  No man’s back is strong enough.  We are here for each other.

So is it Quality or Quantity?  Personally I do not care.  You are my Brothers and I will do whatever it takes to bring you back and keep you coming back to Lodge each week.  I will be here for you my Brother, in and out of the Lodge.  One day I too will get the opportunity to lay down my working tools and join our Brethren who came before us and who helped build this brilliant Fraternity.  I hope by then I improved your lives, our community, and the world.

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Quantity Or Quality by Todd M. Paterek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.