St. Ita of Killeedy: “Foster Mother of the Saints of Ireland”
After St. Brigid, St. Ita, who was named Deirdre, is the most famous woman saint in Ireland. Her birth of noble Christian parents, Kennfoelad, a Déisí tribe chieftain and Necta his princess wife, is said to have taken place around 470 in Drum, County Waterford, Ireland.
From her baptism on, Deirdre was filled with the Holy Spirit. All marveled at her childhood purity and Christian virtues. She was prudent, generous, kind toward everyone, and gentle. As she grew, it became apparent that she wished to devote her life to God.
At the age of 16, Deirdre refused an offer of marriage, as she desired to consecrate her virginity to God. Her father refused to let her do this, until an angel reassured him that she would become an advocate for souls. With her father’s approval, Deirdre went to an elderly priest she had known from childhood and publicly professed her religious vows. She took the name Ita at this time. Ita then left her father’s house and set out with companions to a place called Cluain Creadail which means “Holy Meadow,” which is now known as Killeedy (“Church of Ita”).
When she decided to settle in Killeedy, a chieftain offered her a large grant of land to support the monastery. But Ita would accept only four acres, which she cultivated intensively. Ita and her community spent their time praying and caring for the sick, the poor and the elderly. The community also had a dairy farm, which was run by St Ita. The nuns also supervised a school for boys, some of whom later became famous churchmen and saints. One of these was St. Brendan, whom Bishop Saint Eric gave to Ita to raise when he was just a baby. Thus, she is known as the “Foster Mother of the Saints of Ireland”.
The great Navigator (who sailed to the New World long before Columbus) revisited her between his voyages and always deferred to her counsel. He once asked her what were the three things which God most detested, and she replied: “A scowling face, obstinacy in wrong-doing, and too great a confidence in the power of money.” Brendan also asked her what three things God especially loved. She replied, “True faith in God with a pure heart, a simple life with a religious spirit, and open-handedness inspired by charity.”
Through her practice of asceticism, and by her continual focus on God and His divine love, she was enriched with many extraordinary graces. The main lesson she taught others was, that to continually contemplate the will of God and to unite our will with His is the great means of attaining perfection. She died January 15, in 569.