St Ita of Killeedy

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
14 Jan 2010

The date 15 January marks the Feast day of Ireland's St Ita of Killeedy who is revered by the Irish and regarded second only to St Brigid.

Born in 480 AD in the Diocese of Limerick, she was baptised Deirdre and grew up in Drum, County Waterford. The daughter of Irish nobility and in all probability related to the royal kings of Ireland, she showed an unusual inclination to prayer and holiness from an early age and also was said to embody the six virtues of Irish womanhood - wisdom, purity, musical ability, gentle speech and needle skills.

A high born noble courted and wished to marry her. But Deirdre, now in her teens, had no wish to marry and instead wanted to devote her life to God and become a nun. Her highborn father was impatient with this decision and for three days she prayed for his understanding. Her prayers were answered and with her father's blessing she embarked on her chosen vocation. Vowing to remain single and lead a celibate life, she made her way to Hy-Conall where she established a convent that became known as Killeedy.

The convent, the ruins of which still stand, would be her home for the rest of her life. 

Taking the religious name of Ita, she was joined in her convent by other sisters and a short time later, founded a school for boys nearby.

Among those she taught was St Brendan, also known as Brendan the Voyager after his voyage across the Atlantic where legend has it he visited the Americas. As a student of St Ita's, Brendan is believed to have asked her what three things God loved best.

"True faith in God and a pure heart, a simple life with a religious spirit and open-handedness inspired by charity," she answered.

Over the centuries many extravagant miracles have become associated with St Ita including the healing of a man who was decapitated. Although such stories seem unlikely, her faith, devotion to God and her work as a healer and educationalist is unquestioned.

As with many of Ireland's ancient Saints, St Ita was canonised by her local bishop but during the twentieth Century, the Bishop of Limerick formalised her sanctification when he received permission from Pope Pius IX to observe a feast day in her name on January 15 each year.

She is also the official Patron Saint of the Diocese of Limerick.