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.
The following is a listing of some of the parishes, churches and ministries under the patronage of St. Joseph in the Archdiocese of Chicago:
St. Joseph Church, Wilmette
Now part of Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier Parish
St. Joseph was organized in Wilmette in 1845 to serve German Catholics in what was then the village of Gross Point. For a time, it was the only Catholic church between downtown Chicago and Waukegan.
The current church, described by A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago as “modified Romanesque with gothic proportions,” was dedicated in 1939. It sits on the highest point in Wilmette.
It was united with the neighboring St. Francis Xavier Parish in 2019.
St. Joseph Church (Orleans Street)
Part of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Parish
St. Joseph Church was dedicated on Aug. 15, 1846, as a parish church to serve German Catholics north of the Chicago River. Since that time, it has served as a parish church for members of the Italian, Puerto Rican and Black Catholic communities.
It united with Immaculate Conception Parish (North Park Avenue) in 2016.
St. Joseph Church (Hermitage Avenue)
Now united with St. Michael the Archangel and Immaculate Heart of Mary-Holy Cross parishes.
The parish was dedicated as a mission of St. Mary of Perpetual Help in Bridgeport in 1886 and was intended to serve Polish Catholics who had settled southwest of the Union Stock Yards. It became an independent parish in 1889.
It serves as the parish church for the newly united parish.
St. Joseph Parish, Libertyville
The first church built for Catholics in Libertyville was Sts. Peter and Paul Church, built in 1886, and staffed by priests from St. Michael in Chicago, St. Mary in Fremont Center and St. Patrick and St. Mary in Lake Forest until a resident pastor was appointed in 1895.
A 1904 fire destroyed the church, and when a new building was dedicated in 1905, the parish name was changed to St. Joseph.
St. Joseph Church, Summit
Now part of a united parish with St. Blase, Argo
St. Joseph Parish in Summit began as a mission of St. Mary Parish, Riverside, with the church dedicated in 1902. It became an independent parish with its own resident pastor in 1909. When the parishes of St. Blase (originally a mission of St. Joseph) and St. Joseph were separated in the early 1920s, a new church and school were built. The new church was dedicated in 1925.
St. Joseph Parish, Round Lake
Archbishop James Quigley agreed to the formation of a parish in what is now the Round Lake area in 1911, after meeting with a group of Catholics who lived there. A cornerstone was laid later that year and the church was dedicated in 1912. A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago noted that the parish relied on activities such as dances and bazaars to gather its members, who were scattered in a rural area.
The cornerstone for the current church was laid in 1979.
St. Joseph Parish, Homewood
The parish got its start in 1912 when Father Armand Martin, an assistant pastor at St. Louis of France Parish on 117th St. in Chicago, began celebrating Masses for area Catholics in the Homewood village hall. The church itself was dedicated in September of that year.
St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Wheeling
The first Masses at St. Joseph the Worker Parish were celebrated at Chevy Chase Country Club in 1957. The new parish, formed from territory formerly belonging to St. Mary, Buffalo Grove, celebrated Mass in its own church for the first time on Christmas Eve in 1958, and the combined church and school building was dedicated by then-Archbishop Albert Meyer in 1959.
For some time, the parish offered a Mass each Sunday at the Lincolnshire Marriott resort.
St. Joseph Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Des Plaines
The indoor worship space at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines was dedicated in 2018 and offers seating for 1,100 people, as well as high-tech lighting, video and audio capabilities to stream Masses.
It was created through a $5 million renovation of a former gym on the campus of Maryville Academy. Before the construction of the chapel, Mass was sometimes held in the gym or outdoors under a tent.
Shrine rector Father Esequiel Sanchez said the chapel was named for St. Joseph because of his loving relationship with the Blessed Mother.
“She is comfortable having St. Joseph around,” he said.
Joseph and Mary Retreat House, Mundelein
The Joseph and Mary Retreat House, previously known as the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House, was built as a retreat center for the priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Diocese of Joliet on the grounds of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.
Originally there were 36 rooms and suites for the archbishop, the director, retreat master and the Jesuit confessor. The chapel includes a marble altar dedicated to the ascending Christ and eight stained glass windows.
In 1955, 15 rooms were added to expand for increased demand.
Today the center offers retreats for clergy and laity.
St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly, Palatine
St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly is one of two homes in the Archdiocese of Chicago operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor.
St. Joseph’s Home opened in 1966, when the Little Sisters closed another home, also named for St. Joseph, on Prairie Avenue in Chicago.
The home’s mission is “to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.”
AMITA St. Joseph Hospital
St. Joseph Hospital was founded by the Daughters of Charity as Providence Hospital in a converted summer house at Clark Street and Diversey Avenue. It was renamed for St. Joseph when it opened its first purpose-built building near Burling Street and Dickens Avenue after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
It moved to its current site, near Diversey Avenue and Lake Shore Drive in 1964. It became part of AMITA Health in 2018 after a series of Catholic health care system mergers.
Congregation of St. Joseph
The Congregation of St. Joseph arrived in La Grange in 1899. The cornerstone of the convent was laid the following year, the same year the founding mother superior died. The new superior, Mother Alexine Gosselin “faced the daunting challenge of shepherding a new congregation whose financial resources totaled 33 cents.”
Most of the sisters over the years ministered in schools, and the congregation sponsors Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park. Sisters now also serve as nurses, social workers, chaplains and spiritual directors, among other ministries.
It joined with six other communities of Sisters of St. Joseph to form the current Congregation of St. Joseph in 2007.
Taller de José
Taller de José is an agency that offers companionship and personal attention to people who have difficulty finding their way in a complex social system. The agency opened its doors in 2008 near Our Lady of Tepeyac Church on 22nd Street before moving to 2831 W. 24th Blvd., near Assumption Parish and Kolbe House. It now has satellite sites at St. Agnes Parish in Little Village and St. Eulalia Parish in Maywood.
Rather than duplicate existing services, Taller de José collaborates with other agencies to make social services more accessible to people in need. Each staff member, known as a “compañera” or “compañero,” is trained to listen to clients to assess the services they need and then accompany them in the process of finding those resources.
“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.”
Marking the 150th anniversary of St. Joseph being declared patron of the universal church, Pope Francis proclaimed a yearlong celebration dedicated to the foster father of Jesus.