St. Columba, also known as St. Columcille, is one of Ireland’s three patron saints, together with St. Patrick and St. Brigid. He is also sometimes called the “Apostle of the Picts” for his evangelization work in Scotland.
Columba was born in 521, descended from royalty. He was taught and mentored by the priest who baptized him, and later went to a monastic school founded by St. Finnian of Moville. Columba became a monk at the school, and was also ordained a deacon.
Columba went on to a different monastery and school run by St. Finnian of Colnard. He was ordained a priest there, and along with 11 others from the same institute, would become one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland.”
Columba also studied with St. Mobhi of Glasnevin, before an epidemic forced him to return to Ulster in 544. He spent the next 15 years traveling, preaching, and founding monasteries.
In 563, Columba left Ireland, for reasons unknown. Some accounts say he was simply going to preach the word of God. Others claim that he had become involved in a battle between warring tribes, and took on missionary work as penance.
On the island of Iona, on Scotland’s northwest coast, Columba and his companions built simple monastic quarters and a small church. Columba’s first missionary work was in the region of Dalriada, where the Celtic Christmas were lacking solid religious instruction.
Columba’s next effort was to cover the Picts in northern Scotland, a task he would spend most of his life completing. He gained entrance to the castle of King Brude, where the locked gates were said to have miraculously opened when Columba made the sign of the Cross. The king believed the Gospel and was baptized.
Over the next 30 years, Columba continued to evangelize in northern Scotland. He and his companions met with resistance from the native pagan Druids, but overall built a network of churches and monasteries, and spread the Catholic faith.
The monastery at Iona drew pilgrims seeking Columba’s wisdom and prayers. He remained in touch with the Irish Church, making many trips back and forth until he became too weak to travel. Even in old age, Columba maintained an intense routine of prayer, fasting, and study.
After giving his monastery one final blessing on June 8, 597, Columba died in the early hours of the following day.