The first thing visitors see when they walk into either Queen of Heaven Catholic Funeral Home in Mesa is an original painting depicting the death of St. Joseph in the arms of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
St. Joseph, who counts having a “happy death” — in the arms of our Savior — among his patronages, plays a major role guiding the ministry of the Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes.
Harry Antram, director of Mission and Care for Catholic Cemeteries, recalled a gentleman from 10 years ago who had no children and had just buried his wife.
“He was just completely lost,” recalled Antram, sharing that he shared a St. Joseph prayer card with the man. “I explained to him the paining and encouraged him to pray to St. Joseph, not only for his mercy and compassion, but also for his protection going forward. It was about a month later he came in, and he was discussing with me that he had begun a devotion to St. Joseph and just how moving it was to him.”
With his recent Apostolic Letter, “Patris Corde,” or “With a Father’s Heart,” Pope Francis declared the Year of St. Joseph, beginning this past Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and ending the same date in 2021.
“He’s definitely the saint that impacts our ministry the most and guides our grieving process for families and guides our staff in having the patience, compassion and the care of Christ to help grieving families,” Antram said. “It’s great for Pope Francis to acknowledge the impact St. Joseph can have in many ways from your vocation in your life, plans for your future, for whatever your needs are.”
In his letter, the Holy Father writes that we can discover in St. Joseph an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. “St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”
The Feast of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church on March 19 is a solemnity, meaning it takes precedence over the Lenten Season. During the holy year, March 19 falls on a Friday during Lent, but because it is a solemnity, the faithful may still eat meat.
Devotion to St. Joseph is strong at the Phoenix parish that bears his name. The community is in the process of rebuilding a new church after a fire destroyed the old church on May 1, 2018, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. While parishioners were devastated, they kept their faith and devotion to their patron. One statue of St. Joseph the Worker that was kept in the Adoration chapel survived the fire with a few burns and has now been restored.
“I have a priest friend who told me, ‘never, never forget your devotion to St. Joseph,’” recalled Fr. Reggie Carreon.
An anonymous donor provided a statue of Joseph holding the Baby Jesus located in the front of the campus, and the same donor gave a traveling statue for families to keep in their homes for a week. A parish organization, the “Band of Brothers,” is dedicated to carrying out the mission of St. Joseph, and Fr. Carreon said that every 19th day of the month will be dedicated to him.
“St. Joseph was really a righteous man, and he really protected not only the dignity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also the child to be born. Joseph did what the angel told him,” said Fr. Carreon. “He was very obedient, very holy, very righteous.”
A group of parishioners at St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Scottsdale is also very dedicated to St. Joseph. The Padre Pio Prayer group, led by Italian immigrant Nancy Rossiello, sponsors an Italian dinner on St. Joseph’s March 19 feast day every year, pandemic-pending.
“St. Joseph teaches the beauty of the family,” said Rossiello, who prays to St. Joseph every night. During the Year of St. Joseph, she is particularly seeking his intercession for “coronavirus to go away, to stop wide-spread divorce and to stop abortion.”
Italians have a special devotion to St. Joseph, who is also the patron of their home country. In Italy, Catholics pray a Novena to St. Joseph and celebrate his feast day with bread baked in the shape of a heart, representing his father’s heart, a cane, a cross or an “M” for St. Mary.
“There are so many churches where they collect money, and they give to the poor. That’s what we do at St. Bernard,” she said. The statue she uses for the St. Joseph table is approximately 200 years old, she said. The devotion to St. Joseph in Italy is intrinsically tied to the importance of the family, said Rossiello, adding that in Italy, his feast day is also Father’s Day.
Recognizing his work as a carpenter and in supporting the Holy Family, St. Joseph has also been adopted as patron of workers and the unemployed, with a feast day commemorating this particular patronage May 1.
“Pope Francis has been a big advocate for the working poor and underemployed, and he’s always mentioned the value and dignity of work,” said Brent Downs, executive director of St. Joseph the Worker — a diocese-supported ministry helping people find work. “St. Joseph was a hard worker, he cared for the Son of God. Heaven help us, that’s a huge role. But he did it with humility and grace.”
Downs, a former Baptist minister in the process of converting to Catholicism, credits St. Joseph with his own gradual conversion process.
“When I heard about St. Joseph being the patron saint of the worker, that’s the core of who we are. The dignity of work, the value of work and how it’s more than just a job; it’s that joy from doing a job and being able to support yourself and your family,” he said.
“To not be a man of prayer is to be foolishly at the whim of moods and fate. If we’re men of prayer, we get a sense of when we have to step in and step up.”
On a national level, the Young Catholic Professionals have also adopted St. Joseph the Worker as their patron. Sally Lopez, president of the Phoenix chapter and a parishioner of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, said that all events begin and end with a prayer to St. Joseph the Worker, and in a normal year, YCP sponsors Advent and Lent retreats called “St. Joseph Saturday.”
“St. Joseph tells us to take a moment to be able to take the courage and live our faith and be able to speak about our faith,” she said.
As a single woman, Lopez also looks to St. Joseph as an example of the kind of husband she would want.
“St. Joseph is just someone that I would aspire for a man to basically be who he is, someone strong,” she said. “I think every woman wants, especially single women nowadays, someone who’s able to carry that role as a man, and St. Joseph does it perfectly.”
“Everyone who is married is called to be a chaste spouse. Joseph was not immaculately conceived like Mary was; this was a fallen man who became, prior to his marriage, most chaste,” said Mike Phelan, director of the Diocese of Phoenix Office of Marriage and Respect Life and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s representative on the Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Phoenix board. “He had integrated his masculine sexual drive into a holy personality. That is something every man is called to do.”
For most of us, he said, that includes engaging in the marital act chastely and not compromising any of the full meaning of that act, which is “a renewal of the vows of marriage.”
The theme for the 2021 Men’s Conference is “Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength,” virtues providentially embodied by St. Joseph, Phelan said. The conference is scheduled for March 27, a week after his feast day. Phelan said that St. Joseph teaches us that in order to protect their families, men must first be men of prayer.
“To not be a man of prayer is to be foolishly at the whim of moods and fate. If we’re men of prayer, we get a sense of when we have to step in and step up,” he said. “We get guidance for all those areas where we don’t feel competent. We more closely follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.”
The true strength that St. Joseph shows is an interior strength that comes from closeness with the Lord, said Fr. Paul Sullivan, rector of Nazareth House Seminary and chaplain for men of the Diocese of Phoenix.
“The steady obedience of Joseph in doing what he knows is his mission for the good of Jesus is something we can relate to,” Fr. Sullivan said. “Joseph’s example is an example of obedience, docility and trust, and we can be subjected to the opposite of disobedience, willfulness and mistrust in the Lord’s plans because we’re living in difficult times.”
As an eighth-grader, Fr. Sullivan chose St. Joseph as his confirmation saint, a decision he admittedly didn’t put much thought into, but that he now relies on the foster-father of Jesus regularly.
“What prompted me in my devotion to him is the known power of intercession when we need the Lord’s help and his closeness to Jesus,” he said.
Now in its second year, Nazareth House has established a tradition for seminarians to consecrate themselves to Mary every Fall and to St. Joseph every spring. The name was chosen, Fr. Sullivan said, because there is “no better place to grow than under the care of Mary and Joseph.”