FEAST DAY: MAY 16
St. Brendan of Clonfert was known as “the Navigator,” “the Voyager,” “the Bold.” One-hundred years before Brendan was born, Ireland was moving from a pagan to a Christian nation through the inspiration of St. Patrick. However, Christianity had a slow start. Although St. Patrick did much to convert Ireland, Christianity did not flourish until after his death. Brendan, because of his upbringing, carried on the mission to spread the faith. He is known as one of the original Twelve Apostles of Ireland.
In 484 A.D. Brendan was born in Fenit, near the small seaside port of Tralee, in County Kerry in the province of Munster in the southwest of Ireland. His parents were Finlug and Cara. He came under the tutelage of Bishop Erc who was their spiritual leader. It was Bishop Erc who baptized the child and changed his name from Mobhi to Brendan (Broen-finn, meaning “fair-drop”). Brendan was sent to study at school with St. Ita of Killeedy, as his teacher. In the year 510 Brendan was ordained a priest. During the period of 510-530, he was instrumental in establishing monastic communities around the port of Ardfert. Being influenced by the beauty of the land and also seeing daily the mysteries of the ocean, Brendan’s enthusiasm for exploration grew. It is from the port of Ardfert that he initially set out on his travels into uncharted waters.
His journals speak of adventures by boat to Britain, Scotland, Greenland, Iceland, and possibly even America. There are signs of ancient Celtic presence in areas of Newfoundland as well as some of the New England states. Evidence of this means that Brendan’s claims are not necessarily mythological in nature. It is reported that Christopher Columbus even studied the saint’s journals before setting out on his own seafaring expeditions.
St. Brendan’s most famous monastery was built in Clonfert in County Galway in 560. Today, there is a cathedral located there, surrounded by a cemetery. St. Brendan’s grave is simply marked immediately outside the cathedral front doors. He died at that age of 93 in 577 A.D.
St. Brendan the Navigator is known as the patron saint of sailors and the United States Navy. He is the patron of those who are afraid because he himself was fearless in setting out into uncharted water and in uncertain circumstances.