Patrician Secular Clergy
3. The First Order: Patrician Secular Clergy.
During the century and a quarter following St. Patrick's arrival, i.e., from A.D. 432 to about 559, the clergy who laboured to spread the faith among the people appear to have been for the most part unconnected with monasteries: in other words, they corresponded to the present secular or parochial clergy. These Patrician clergy, as they may be called, were the First Order of saints. Among them were many distinguished bishops, some of whom are named in the Catalogue. There were monasteries and schools also during the whole of this period, and many of the abbots were bishops: but monasteries did not constitute the main feature of the ecclesiastical system: for the life of St. Patrick, and, it may be added, the life of the First Order of saints in general, was, as the Most Rev. Dr. Healy remarks, "too full of missionary labours to be given to the government or foundation of monasteries." During this period, therefore, the clergy devoted themselves entirely to the home mission—the conversion of the Irish people—which gave them quite enough to do. For more than thirty years they were led by their great master, with all his fiery and tireless energy. After his death, his disciples and their successors continued the work. But the struggle was a hard one: for the druids exerted themselves to the utmost to retard and limit the spread of the faith; and besides this, many unconverted pagans still remained in most parts of the country, who naturally supported the druids.
Doorway of hermitage of St Erc, one of St Patrick's converts and first bishop of Slane: beside the Boyne near Slane: a relic of the Patrician clergy. Present building erected long after St Erc's time. (From Wilde's Boyne and Blackwater).