Year of St. Joseph: reflecting on the father, teacher, protector

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Protector. Worker. Husband. Father. Dreamer. Migrant. Teacher.

Ask Catholics how they think of St. Joseph, and the list of attributes is long, especially for someone who does not have much to say in the Bible.

“I love the fact that St. Joseph was a father, a husband and head of the Holy Family,” said Father James Presta, pastor of St. Emily Parish in Mount Prospect. “And I admire his courage, his sense of obedience to the will of God and his trust in God’s providence. Those are all very good virtues that are good in all fathers, fathers of families and spiritual fathers. He’s a man of silence in the Scriptures but he speaks volumes in the way he responds to God’s will.”

Pope Francis made this the Year of St. Joseph with the publication of “Patris Corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”) on Dec. 8, 2020, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the recognition of St. Joseph as a patron of the universal church. The year extends to Dec. 8, 2021.

In September, Presta gave a talk on “St. Joseph: A Father in the Shadows,” part of a series of video talks distributed by the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in honor of the year of St. Joseph. He also joined his associate pastor, Father Hank Lyon, and several dozen parishioners in consecrating himself to St. Joseph on the saint’s feast day, March 19, this year.

“He was the man in the background, but there he was,” Presta said. “That strong support was there for Jesus and Mary. I like that image of him. People who work in the background don’t get a lot of notoriety or attention. There’s a humility in him in the ways he carried through the tasks and duties of his life.”

That might make him sound like someone who valued action over reflection, but Sister of St. Joseph Kathy Brazda doesn’t think that’s quite fair.

“I do think of him as a doer,” said Sister Kathy, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s leadership team. “But he paid attention to his dreams and he followed them, so he had to have a reflective place in his life, to follow the inspirations that his spirit was giving him.”

St. Joseph has been an important figure in her life, she said.

“My relationship with Joseph just permeates my entire being,” Sister Kathy said. “We relate to Joseph as a dreamer, a protector, as a teacher. At various times in my life, depending on my ministry or what was happening, that particular value of Joseph comes to the forefront.”

Sister Kathy said she thinks of Joseph when she ministers to and with immigrants, which was large part of her ministry when she worked with Taller de José, a ministry of accompaniment that she helped found.

“I was always aware of Joseph accompanying Mary and Jesus, with the whole situation with immigrants and migrants today,” she said. “Joseph was a migrant. When I’m praying for migrants today, I ask for Joseph’s protection.”

The congregation strives to emulate St. Joseph’s hospitality as well.

“He welcomed Mary into his life,” Sister Kathy said. “He welcomed Jesus to his life. Sometimes we use the phrase ‘cordial charity’ when we talk about Joseph. ‘Cordial’ is welcoming, open to every neighbor. We try to be open to our human neighbors, and open to our neighbors in creation.”

Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey Grob, who, like Cardinal Cupich, was born on St. Joseph’s feast day, said he’s always felt a natural affinity for the saint.

“There are so many different qualities to emulate, and I try to do that,” Bishop Grob said. “He was a plain Joe, if you’ll forgive the pun. He was open. He was a hardworking man. There’s a tradition in our faith that refers to him as ‘the just man.’

“He was also a man of discretion, and I don’t know how much we talk about that. Look at the interplay between him and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It would be so easy for him to make some big public scene when he found out she was pregnant. That wasn’t his way. Those are pretty good qualities, I think.”

Bishop Grob also noted St. Joseph’s willingness to reflect on the dreams God sent him and discern their meaning, and his willingness to accept the invitation to be part of salvation history.

Now, Bishop Grob said, he always enjoys the moment in the eucharistic prayer when St. Joseph is mentioned, something that Pope Francis added back into prayer a few years ago.

For Presta, the annual St. Joseph table is a high point. The tables, held on or near the March 19 feast day, combine the three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

A traditional St. Joseph table looks like an altar with a statue of the saint and decorations. The meal begins with prayer — the blessing of the table — before the community shares the food that has been provided. As the feast falls during Lent, all of the dishes are meatless, Presta said.

Traditionally, the food is shared with the poor or members of the community can make donations to benefit the poor people in the community.

“It started in the Italian community, but I think any parish can do it,” Presta said. “It’s a great devotion to do during the Lenten season.”

Sister Kathy said she doesn’t have a particular favorite devotion, although the feast day is a big celebration for her community. Rather, she appreciates the way the Congregation of St. Joseph emulates its patron, working quietly in the background.

“As Sisters of St. Joseph, we do our work quietly, bringing love and communion into the world,” she said. “We’re hidden like Joseph, doing our daily work, discreet.”


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