Who was St Kevin?

The original St Kevin is a somewhat mysterious figure. Bearing in mind that he not only lived in the sixth century but was Irish to boot, you might excuse us for not knowing precisely where the facts about him end and the myths begin. It is said that Kevin was born in 498 and died in 618, giving him a respectable innings of 120 years

St Kevin lived as a hermit in a cave in a place called Glendalough, after which our junior school is named. A hermit might seem like an unusual patron for a busy boys’ school, but there was something about Kevin’s personality that attracted people and created community. Before long, his cave became the hub of a monastery.

Many of the stories about St Kevin suggest that he had a deep relationship with the natural world. For example, one legend is that the loneliness of a hermit’s life was alleviated when ‘the branches and leaves of the trees sometimes sang sweet songs to him.’   

Another story is depicted in the wooden panel which hangs on the right hand side of the wall on the freeway side of the chapel. This is the celebrated tale of St Kevin and the blackbird. One day, Kevin was praying with his arms outstretched in his cell in the monastery. The cell was so small that his right arm had to poke out through the window. There was no such luxury as glass in those days. As he was praying, a blackbird came and nestled in his hand. Then the blackbird started to build a nest. When the nest was complete, the blackbird laid an egg. It seems that Kevin was a man who, when talking with the Lord, was not easily distracted.

Once Kevin realised that the nest and egg were in his hand, he decided not to move until the egg had hatched and the fledgling had flown away. He didn’t want to risk breaking the egg.
One of the great things about legends is that simple stories are never that simple. This one works on several levels. A good deal of Celtic spirituality is about finding love in hard places; it is about both blood and stone. So here we have St Kevin, in his austere cell, undertaking something which is both painful and difficult. But the real focus of the story is a small chick, a fragile creature for which the saint feels great tenderness. The story is not really about endurance; it is about nurture and the pain that may involve.

St Kevin is a good patron for a school. Any Christian community needs to stand with its arms wide open, accepting with reverence whatever God brings its way, holding firm to protect its vulnerable members. St Kevin’s holds the lives of young men until they are ready to make their way in the world.

Now, if anyone knows anything about the original St Kilda…

Michael McGirr
Head of Faith and Mission