From the Director
"What do you know about Ireland?" I asked the third grade class that was excited to have just learnt that I was from there. "St. Patrick was from there" responded a girl in the front row. "So did that mean that he was Irish?" I inquired, my tone betraying an element of doubt. "Yes!" came back a chorus of voices, filled with disbelief that I would even pose such a question.
"So what did St. Patrick do in Ireland?" I asked. "He told the people about God. He was a missionary" responded a boy in the third row. "And how was it that St. Patrick knew about God, while the Irish people around him knew nothing?" I inquired. "Because God told him and God sent him" replied a shy girl at the back of the class, unable to endure my frivolous questions any longer. "Let me see if I can get this clear" I dared to say, "St. Patrick, who was from Ireland, was sent by God as a missionary to the Irish? A sea of little heads bobbed vigorously in agreement.
It was clear to me by now that these third grade students were unimpressed by my questions about such obvious matters, so I tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. "What else do you know about Ireland" I ventured to inquire. "There are four-leaf clovers there and if you find one it will bring you luck" responded a freckled boy, whose ancestors might well have been Irish. "And why is it lucky to find a four-leaf clover?" I mused aloud. "Because one day when St. Patrick was preaching to the people, he picked up a There were times when I sensed that my concerns and questions mattered little to the local people. four-leaf clover and used it to explain the Trinity" he responded enthusiastically. Unable to conceal my amusement, I asked, "What was his explanation?" After a brief silence, the students looked quizzically at one another, puzzled as to why an explanation was necessary!
While this conversation took place in a school near to where I now live, it reminded me of many other encounters I had as a missionary in other cultures. There were times when I sensed that my concerns and questions mattered little to the local people. There were other times when I felt that my communication skills were inadequate, or that I lacked the patience and perseverance needed for a meeting of minds and hearts with those who saw the world from a different vantage point.
Just as I was leaving the classroom, the freckled boy raised his hand to get my attention and then proclaimed jubilantly, "The four-leaf clover is for the four Gospels that St. Patrick used to tell the Irish about the Trinity …. that's why it's lucky …. and that's why there's the luck of the Irish!" "Could it be that this boy will one day become a Columban missionary?" I thought, and with that I burst out laughing.