About Our Name
A patron is a holy person or event from the history of the Church, that Orthodox Christian parish churches are named for. Our parish’s patron is Saint Willibrord, the eighth century bishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands. He is remembered for bringing the Good News of Jesus to the violent, pagan Frisian peoples who lived in the region.
Our parish, established in 2014, was named for him because many of us have Dutch family roots, and we honor this man who brought the Christian faith to our ancestors. As he was faithful to our Lord there, in the "old Holland," so we strive to be here in the "new Holland" of West Michigan.
The Life of Saint Willibrord
Willibrord was born in the kingdom of Northumbria (northern England) in the year 658. His mother died soon afterward, and his father, Wilgis, went away to live as a hermit. Wilgis left his infant son in the hands of Wilfrid, the abbot of the monastery at Ripon, where the child was raised.
At the age of 20, Willibrord went to Ireland, to the Abbey of Rath Melsigi, where he stayed for twelve years. At the age of 33, he was ordained a priest.
Egbert, the abbot of Rath Melsigi, strongly desired for the Irish monasteries to organize a mission to evangelize the pagan Frisians on the mainland, but he was deterred by the destruction of his ship in a storm, as well as his poor health. He then founded a new monastery, enlisting monks who shared his intentions and prepared them for the work ahead. After twelve years of thorough preparation, Egbert sent twelve monks to Frisia, on the coast of the North Sea, with Willibrord as their leader.
In 690 Willibrord was warmly welcomed by Pippin of Herstal, the Majordomo of Austrasia, who had just completed a successful expedition against Radboud, the heathen king of the Frisians. Willibrord began his work in the areas conquered by Pippin. He showed such great talent for evangelism that Pippin made every effort to get him to Rome for consecration as a bishop. Reluctantly persuaded to accept, Willibrord went to Rome, laden with gifts from Pippin, and in 696 Pope Sergius consecrated him with the name of Clement, to oversee the church at Utrecht. Three years later, he was given a church and a monastery in Echternach as gifts, the first of the many gifts that he received during his missionary work.
The following year he traveled to the Danes, but with little success due to the furious opposition of the Vikings there. He took about thirty boys back with him, intending to educate them and return them to their country as missionaries. On the way he despoiled a pagan shrine on the island of Heligoland, where Radboud was staying. The king, however, was too afraid of Pippin to act violently against the saint, and Radboud provided Willibrord safe passage to Francia. He then came to another island in the throes of the sea: Walcheren, where he founded several churches.
The death of Pippin in 714 was a catastrophe for Willibrord's accomplishments, as Radboud immediately revolted and undid much of his work, destroying churches and leading the Frisians back into paganism. After Radboud's death in 718, Willibrord enlisted the help of another missionary, Boniface of Mainz, to bring them back into the flock. Like the apostles, Willibrord performed miracles and effected supernatural healings. The divine Light illumined the people's hearts and the Word of Truth was proclaimed throughout the land.
The historian Alcuin writes of Willibrord’s impressive demeanor. He displayed calmness in all circumstances, and Alcuin praises his nobility and his friendly manner of acting. Throughout the region, he built churches and founded monasteries for men and women, gradually softening the savage customs of the people. He was aided in his work by Irish monks, and news of his successes brought many more monks from Ireland to assist in the effort.
Willibrord continued his apostolic labors well into his seventies. After a half-century of hard work, he retired to his beloved Echternach monastery, but continued to preach and serve as abbot. He fell asleep peacefully on November 7, 739, and was buried at Echternach.
By the prayers and efforts of this new apostle, the Christian Faith was planted for the first time throughout the Low Countries. Through Saint Willibrord, the light of Christ kindled a flame that engulfed this very dark corner of Europe.