PATRON of THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH and OUR DIOCESAN PATRON
Throughout my life, I have always looked to St. Joseph as the perfect patron—the one to whom I could confidently turn in time of difficulty and need. Believe me, I sure did—many, many times! St. Teresa of Avila (to whom we really owe a great deal of our piety and devotion regarding St. Joseph) was known to have said: “I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant.” I couldn’t agree more.
My dear friends and blessed associates in the vineyard, the Little Sisters of the Poor have a great devotion to St. Joseph. He has helped their wonderful community in many ways and any one of them would be so eager and happy to let you know of St. Joseph’s wondrous and miraculous ways of assistance in their order. At the time of my own mother’s death, she was surrounded by 10 Little Sisters. St. Joseph is the patron of a happy death (since he died with both Jesus and Mary at his deathbed). Even though I had just left the nursing home, where my mother was being cared for by the sisters, it was amazing for me to know that she had such an army of faithful and saintly sisters who prayed her peacefully through the moment of her death, with St. Joseph at their side.
Many times, when I listen to confessions, I often refer penitents to St. Joseph because of his unique place in the communion of saints as the patron saint of families, particularly for men to be good and faithful husbands and fathers. I learned firsthand of St. Joseph’s care for families. When I was young, my own family had many difficulties and much dysfunction. I was blessed with good sisters (Sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of Saint Francis in Stevens Point) at St. Mary of Perpetual Help School in Chicago. Sister Mary Agnese, now Sister Loretta, was my third-grade teacher. I am still in contact with her. In those days, sisters were always giving out “holy cards” to kids for various reasons. I guess I may have done something right (for a change) or maybe she just knew I needed some extra heavenly help, but she gave me a prayer to the Holy Family featuring St. Joseph. That prayer and the picture on the card helped me see St. Joseph as my special patron saint and, in a special way, my spiritual father. To this day, I have prayed through the intercession of St. Joseph and, just like St. Teresa of Avila said, “I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant.”
I would be remiss if I overlooked the influence offered by the Franciscans in extending devotion to St. Joseph throughout the Church. We remember in a very special way the representation of the Nativity by St. Francis in Greccio in the 13th century. This, of course, opened the way for the manifestation of the humanity of Jesus and opened interest in the humility of St. Joseph. Meditations on the Life of Christ by St. Bonaventure (the patron saint of my Franciscan Province in Chicago), popular in the 14th century, became significant in extending further interest in St. Joseph.
In the next century, especially through the efforts of the great Franciscan preacher, St. Bernadine of Siena, preaching in Italy’s public squares, St. Joseph was presented as so perfect in his treatment of Mary and Jesus that he should serve as a “model for all husbands and fathers.” In 1480, the first Franciscan pope, Sixtus IV, permitted the Franciscan Order to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph on March 19, and gradually this observance spread throughout the Church. Two secular Franciscan popes were also important in this process: In 1870, on Dec. 8, Pius IX declared St. Joseph patron of the Universal Church; and in 1962, St. John XXIII inserted his name into the Roman Canon (now Eucharistic Prayer I). In 2013, Pope Francis placed his name into the other three standard Eucharistic prayers, so today Catholics recall his name every time they celebrate the Eucharist.
This year, 2020, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the title of Patron of the Universal Church for St. Joseph. We celebrate even more in our beloved diocese that, in 1955, Pope Pius XII created the title of St. Joseph the Workman, and our cathedral became the first church to bear the name and celebrate St. Joseph the Workman as our diocesan patron. What an incredible saint! What a holy and just man! St. Joseph, protect us and lead us to our heavenly home.
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan
is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse.