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St. Columba (Columcille)

Feast Day: June 9

When we hurt someone in some way, the right thing to do is to apologize for our actions. At the same time, saying we are sorry is not the final step to reconciliation or to the restoration of the proper order in relationships that existed prior to the action. We need to make penance. That is, we need to act in order to show our sorrow for a sin or wrongdoing; we need to do something to restore the order.

St. Columba (521-597), also known by his Gaelic name of St. Columcille, understood this truth. He was born in Ireland and founded monasteries at Derry, Durrow and Kells. He is known as one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland.”

According to tradition, St. Columba was involved in a conflict with St. Finnian around 560 over a psalter. He apparently had copied the manuscript under St. Finnian and wanted to keep the copy. St. Finnian objected to this and the dispute actually led to the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, in which many men were killed.

Faced with exile, St. Columba offered to work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people as had been killed in the battle. This work would be his penance – and he would dedicate the remainder of his life to it.

He went to the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. There he built a monastery which was to become world famous, and he eventually spread the Gospel to the Scottish Picts. His reputation as a holy man led to his role as a diplomat among the tribes. In short, his penance looked like something.