“Most people have a superficial knowledge of St. Patrick but few are aware of the life and work of the greatest world missionary ever,” Msgr. Harte says. “He had a very interesting life from slavery to primate of Ireland.”
Msgr. Harte spoke with Catholic Digest about his novel and St. Patrick.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I am a Catholic priest, born in Ireland. I came to this country in 1961. I have been a member of the Diocese of Orlando since 1970. Here, I was in charge of the building of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, near Disney World. I have also been director of tourism for the Diocese of Orlando. The biggest work of my life has become a basilica named by Pope John Paul II. It is now a well-known church throughout the United States and attracts thousands of visitors to Orlando for services throughout the year.
Q: What is your book, Flames at Twilight about?
It is a novel about the life of St. Patrick. It starts with his childhood and ends with his death. In a little over 30 years he converted pagan Ireland to Christianity and left his mark everywhere he went. The book is a conglomeration of history, legend, and myth that this great saint left behind. Although a novel, a good part of the book is based on history and readers will find out that converting the warring Celts was no easy challenge for Patrick.
Q: Why did you choose to write your first novel about St. Patrick and Ireland’s conversion to Christianity?
A: I am an Irishman (although now an American citizen). The life of Patrick was once taught in Irish schools. That appears to have stopped. Yet there is a tradition of St. Patrick throughout the world. Parades will take place as far away as Seoul, South Korea, and as far west as Seattle and San Francisco. Most people in the parade will not be aware of the dangerous work of Patrick. He survived only because of his physical and moral strength. He is notably the world’s greatest missionary. In the novel, I wanted to illustrate how he came through many challenges in his life. He had a plan that was very successful.
Q: How was St. Patrick able to so successfully convert Ireland?
A: In my book, readers will find that Patrick had a particular plan. I don’t want to give it here in advance of the book, but it was a most clever and well-fulfilled plan. He also had to combat the native priestly druids who confronted him frequently and might even have been able to destroy his life on one occasion. The other piece to it is that he was a man of prayer, holiness, and love. He had great love for the Irish people.
Q: Why do you think St. Patrick has become one of the most popular saints?
Most likely because of the Irish Diaspora. Very shortly after the time of Patrick, Irish missionaries began to Christianize many parts of Europe and brought the message of the Gospel far, far away from the shores of Ireland. The names of these missionaries such as Columban, Brendan, and Kieran, still live on.
Q: Why is St. Patrick’s Day such a big celebration compared to other saints’ feast days?
A: In my opinion, it is because what he achieved was extraordinary. He converted the Celts on his own. He was a man of great prayer and extremely dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. Besides that, it would appear he had a gentle and loving personality even though he could stand his ground when called upon to do so.
Q: What can you tell us about St. Patrick that most people probably don’t know?
A: The answer to that is: a lot. But I can’t reveal it. I’d like people to enjoy finding out and, at times, smiling, too. Whatever happened to those snakes? And how did swans get involved in the life of Patrick?