Saint Kilian was born in Cloughballybeg near Mullagh, County Cavan, Ireland around the year 640 A.D. He began his education in Roscarberry, County Cork and completed it in Touist in County Kerry. Embracing the monastic life he associated with himself a group of missionary minded monks who made plans for a great pilgrimage. From Kilmakilogue harbor, Saint Kilian and two companions (Coleman and Totnan) set sail in a hide-covered boat. They arrived at Rome in 686 and Pope Conon commissioned them to preach the gospel to the German peoples of Franconia (Baden and Bavaria). These three missionaries arrived in that region in the Fall of 686. Their work covered large areas but the center of the mission was in and around Würzburg. It was there that they converted Gosbert, Duke of that region. Gosbert had earlier married his brother's wife, Geilana. At the preaching of Kilian and his companions, Gosbert learned that such an act was unlawful for a Christian so he prepared to dismiss her. Geilana learned of Gosbert's plan and was filled with rage. While Gosbert was absent from his territory on a military expedition, Geilana had Kilian and his companions murdered and their bodies and sacred belongings buried. The date of their death was July 8, 689 A.D.
The work of the three missionaries did not survive after their deaths. A generation later, St. Boniface found only evidence of their preaching but no established Christian faith community. Saint Burchard, appointed by Boniface as the first bishop of Würzburg, built a cathedral on the spot where the martyrs were said to have met their deaths and had their relics unearthed and buried within a vault of that cathedral church.
Saint Kilian is one of many Irish missionaries to Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries. His memory is recalled today in both Ireland and Germany. He is not only the patron of the city Würzburg and region of Bavaria but also of many Catholic youth groups throughout Germany. His feast is observed on July 8. In Würzburg, his feast is marked by a week-long festival.
In Ireland, his memory is preserved in the village of Mullagh at the Saint Kilian Heritage Centre. This center holds records and celebrates St. Kilian's life. There one can hear of Christianity as an alternative world view which provided the unique vision which motivated heros such as St. Kilian. Visitors are in contact not with some mystic past but rather the spiritual and cultural energy upon which modern Europe was built. This unique center was built by the cooperative efforts of the local community and the Diocese of Würzburg in southern Germany.
The Church's universal calendar celebrates the feast of Saint Kilian on July 8.
O Lord God, you called Kilian and his companions from Ireland to preach the Gospel to the peoples of Southern Germany. Grant that your people may draw strength from their example and never fail to proclaim you truth and your love in our day, as we ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.