Luke Wadding: The Man Behind the Long Green Lines - Part Two

Photo courtesy St. Isidore's Church
St. Patrick, from a mural that overlooks the tomb of Luke Wadding at St. Isidore's Church, Via degli Artisti, Rome.

Part 2 of 2: A Saint Becomes 'An Occasion' (Read Part one HERE)

By James Doherty

Waterford City, Ireland - Wadding's most enduring achievement was the addition of St. Patrick's Day to the official Christian calendar. Prior to Wadding's intercession, St. Patrick's Day was not recognized by the Vatican as a feast day. Despite this, while rector of St. Isidore, Wadding encouraged his students to remember St. Patrick every March 17, the date of Patrick's death, but the commemoration was not widespread, even in Ireland.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Vatican strove to formalize the writings and practices of the Christian church, and thus began the ascent of St. Patrick to international celebrity. When Pope Sixtus V published the first comprehensive list of saints in 1588, it included Patrick, despite his never being canonized. That was not unusual, as the canonization process was adopted hundreds of years after Patrick's death.

Another focus for Vatican reform efforts was the breviary, which comprised the daily prayers to be recited by members of the Church's religious orders.

Due to the increasing number of saints and the Masses accorded to them, the correct recital of the necessary daily prayers became an ever-more complicated task. In 1629, Pope Urban VIII appointed Wadding to a commission to reform the unwieldy breviary. During this process, Patrick Comerford, bishop of Waterford, wrote to Wadding, stressing the importance of including St. Patrick in any new list of feast days accorded to saints. Comerford wrote, "for your life … endeavour that at least a semi double (a type of feast day) be accorded to St. Patrick."

'God reward you for including his feast in the Roman calendar.'

As part of his work on the breviary, Wadding campaigned successfully to insert March 17 into the official Christian calendar as a feast day. This gave the Irish Catholics an officially recognized patron and figurehead, which would act as a rallying point through the ages. This recognition was, in fact, the major impetus in the creation of St. Patrick's Day as we know it. When the commission concluded its work in 1632, John Roche, another Irish bishop, wrote to Wadding to thank him for including St. Patrick, stating, "God reward you for including his feast in the Roman calendar." The inclusion of St. Patrick in the breviary was a major coup for the Irish church.

With the Church's recognition of March 17 as the feast of the patron saint of Ireland, the date became a day of obligation for Irish Catholics, meaning that they became obliged to attend Mass that day, a requirement that continues. In fact, until 1961, pubs in Ireland were obliged to close every St. Patrick's Day.

Lithograph of the New York
St. Patrick's Day parade (1870).

For the Irish and, in particular, the Irish abroad, St. Patrick became as much a symbol of Ireland as the harp or the shamrock, and there were numerous instances of the name of St. Patrick applied to the names of Irish units serving in foreign armies. The first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York by Irish troops serving in the British army in 1762, and today it is the longest and oldest in the world.

Throughout Wadding's life, he declined opportunities for promotion, repeatedly spurning offers to become a bishop. Indeed, the rebel generals who had fought to defend the faith in Ireland wrote to the Vatican requesting his advancement, but Wadding intercepted the letter. There is even speculation that Wadding received votes during the papal elections of 1644 and 1655. Throughout his life, he believed that he could best serve his faith and his homeland as a humble friar.

Photo by James Doherty
Statue of Luke Wadding
in Waterford.

After a monthlong illness, Wadding died Nov. 18, 1657, in his 70th year. He lies buried in Rome, in his beloved Church of St. Isidore. A mural of St. Patrick watches over the humble tomb of friar Wadding. To this day, Wadding is remembered with reverence in both the college and by members of his Franciscan order.

In 1903, Wadding's hometown became the first city to declare St. Patrick's Day a public holiday. Wadding is remembered in Waterford with a statue and a street that bears his name. He is also the namesake for the library at the Waterford Institute of Technology.

Meanwhile, the faithful in those long green lines parading through cities and hamlets, large and small, far and wide, can be forgiven if they believe they get their marching orders from St. Patrick. The modest Port Lairge friar, Luke Wadding, OFM, would prefer it that way. WGT

Read part one: Luke Wadding:The Man Behind the Long Green Lines

James Doherty is a Waterford-based writer who focuses on the preservation of the history of the Irish worldwide.


This feature was edited by Gerry Regan and Liam Murphy, and produced by Joe Gannon.

Copyright © 2011 by James Doherty and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to

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Tags: Battle of Benburb, Franciscans, History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, James Doherty, Luke Wadding, O'Neill", Owen, Roe, Waterford


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