If any profession needs a good word with the Big Boss, it is engineering. Slowly bled and eventually tossed aside, the long-suffering members of this profession exemplify self-sacrifice and virtue. But, where are the patron saints of engineering?
In the traditions of some Christian Churches, such as the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, certain people are declared saints after they die, in recognition of their outstanding virtue and other qualities that net the honorees a larger benefits package, and discounts at religious stores.
I was thinking about this as a result of all the news updates regarding the approaching beatification of Pope John Paul II, which in the Catholic Church is a step toward sainthood. Once they reach that coveted cubicle next to the corner office (because, I've been told, that's as close as they can get), saints are often chosen by particular groups as their patrons, usually because the saint exhibits some quality or has a history that appeals to the group. There may be identification with the saint's profession, or with some struggle that the saint had to endure. But, besides the keyword matching on the resumes, there is also the presumption, or rather hope (in the Catholic Church at least), that the patron saint will put in a good word for you with the Big Boss.
If any profession needs a good word with the Big Boss, it is engineering. Slowly bled and eventually tossed aside, the long-suffering members of this profession exemplify self-sacrifice and virtue. But, where are the patron saints of engineering? Whose name could we agree upon as being representative of all our ideals, or whose earthly battles mirrored our own? I decided to do some research, once my own earthly battles subsided long enough to let me use the computer without dripping blood on it.
Initially, I wasn't able to find a patron saint for electrical or electronics engineering. Evidently, no one wanted the job. Looking through an online book of portraits of the saints, trying to find a likely looking candidate for engineering patron, I came across one of Saint Sebastian, who is often portrayed tied to a tree and bristling with arrows, as punishment for bothering an emperor. Amazingly, after he was rescued and nursed back to health, Saint Sebastian stood on top of some steps and yelled at the emperor (Emperor Diocletian) some more as he passed by. Diocletian then had Sebastian beaten with clubs, and that did Sebastian in. I couldn't help thinking, as I looked at the painting of him against that tree, looking really unhappy, that he was saying, “Engineering? What, are you crazy? You think I need more trouble?”
So, I had to start thinking laterally across disciplines and descriptions, to try to find patron saints in situations with at least some connection to electronics engineering. The first lateral description of EE that I could think of was “out of work.” Even with the economy supposedly roaring back beyond our wildest dreams, and job recruiters camping out on our front doors to catch us on our way to the spa, there are still a few poor geeky souls who haven't been passed the gravy boat.
One patron saint of the poor is Saint Lawrence, who, after making a reputation for himself as righteous, was clonked on the head by a maniac who had the idea Saint Lawrence would make a good martyr. Everyone thought Lawrence was mortally wounded, but, no, he got up, asked for some water, miraculously stopped his own bleeding, and then proceeded to negotiate a reconciliation between England and Ireland, which somehow didn't last. (Note that this isn't the same Saint Lawrence for whom the Saint Lawrence Seaway is named. That one was roasted to death for defying his boss--and that's boss with a small “b,” though this particular boss thought he should have a big “B.”) Getting clonked on the head, surviving, and then doing the impossible seemed to me to be a really good qualification to be the patron saint of engineers.
That is, I thought so until I discovered that, although there are no patron saints of electrical and electronics engineers (they couldn't afford the IEEE dues), I had, in my search, overlooked the more obvious alternative. Instead of “poor,” what about just plain “engineering”? And, yes, there turned out to be one very famous saint who IS referred to as the Patron Saint of Engineers. It is, of all people, Saint Patrick. That's right, the guy in green. If engineers need help, a guy who brings his own green beer should be just what the doctor ordered.
What I couldn't figure out, though, is why Saint Patrick is considered to be the patron saint of engineers. The biography just wasn't very clear about it. Yes, he drove out snakes from Ireland (I know, there weren't any to begin with--it's an allegory, don't you know), and there are a lot of snakes in engineering to deal with. Yes, he is an important source of revenue for police departments all across the country on his feast day of March 17th, and student engineers in particular pay homage to him by competing to be first to lose their sense of balance on that day. But, what makes him stand for engineers (or maybe lie down for them)? Nothing in his biography appears to stand out as particularly geeky or techie.
Then I saw it. He was abducted at an early age and forced to work as a slave. Ah ha! But then, after that (according to catholic.org), he lived in poverty, and endured much suffering until his death. Now if that isn't living like an engineer, I don't know what is.