St. Columban was born in West Leinster, Ireland, sometime between 540 and 550, and decided when he was a youth, to dedicate himself to God despite his mother’s opposition. He lived for a time on Cluain Iris, an island in Lough Erne, with a monk named Sinell, and then became a monk at Bangor. With twelve other monks he was sent as a missionary to Gaul about 585. He built his first monastery at Annegray about 590, and it was so successful that he followed with two more, at Luxeuil and Fontes (Fontaines).
Soon his followers spread all over Europe, building monasteries in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. He aroused much opposition, especially from the Frankish bishops, by the Celtic usages he installed in his monasteries and for refusing to acknowledge bishops’ jurisdiction over them. He defended his practices in letters to the Holy See and refused to attend a Gallican synod at Chalons in 603 when summoned to explain his Celtic usages. In 610 King Theodoric II of Burgundy, angered by Columban’s denunciation of his refusal to marriage and his practice of keeping concubines, ordered all Irish monks banished from his realm. Columban was shipwrecked on the way to Ireland but was offered refuge by King Theodebert II of Neustria at Metz and began to evangelize the Alemanni in the area around Bregenz on Lake Constance. Though successful, he was again banished in 612, when Burgundy warred against and conquered Neustria; Theodoric now ruled over the area in which Columban was working. Columban decided to flee his old adversary and crossed the Alps to Italy, where he was welcomed to Milan by Arian King Agilulf of the Lombards. Columban founded a monastery at Bobbio, between Milan and Genoa, which became one of the great monasteries of its time—a center of culture, learning, and spirituality. He died there on November 23. Columban wrote his Monastic Rule, sermons, poetry, and treatises against Arianism.
Excerpted from Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney