By Harry Stevens
Saint Joseph the Worker’s feast day today. Ora pro nobis.
The memories of my father’s life and death led me to this personal story. I write this as I reflect upon my father’s death on October 4, 2014. It will be personal. I will present my father’s ancestral, geographical, religious, military, and family background as a history that helped form him and me. I will then present the fatherly attributes I learned from him. I will present a brief history of Saint Joseph, and the fatherly attributes I believe were passed on to Jesus. I will also present a history of devotions to Saint Joseph.
My conclusion will be my reflections on several lives lived.
My Father’s Early Years
My father lived to age 94. We can trace our Stevens ancestry to the early Connecticut settlers around 1670 in Stonington, CT. Many of these early Stonington settlers were Congregationalists, as were my Stevens ancestors (conjecture is the Stevens were Puritans from England). The Stevens who eventually settled in Kansas by way of Pennsylvania and Ohio became Methodists sometime in the mid- 19th century. My father grew up on a Kansas farm with six siblings. He was a young boy during the Depression. My dad told me once that because he lived on a farm, the depression did not affect his family as they always had work and food. He was in his early 20’s when WWII started and joined the U. S. Army Air Corps, spending these years in North Africa and Italy. He fit the stereotypical Greatest Generation profile: a hard worker, level headed, patriotic, loyal, humble, who knew the meaning of sacrifice.
He Could Not Stay Down On The Farm
Before the war, he moved to Los Angeles with one of his brothers. After the war, he returned to L.A. My dad worked for the same company for thirty years until he retired in 1978. In the 1950’s, he went to school on the GI bill and married my mom, a Catholic girl of German ancestry from Iowa. They bought a house (where he lived until 2008) and started having boys–five of them.
My dad became a Catholic in the late 50’s. I remember he would always go to early Mass and sit in the back of Church. (The Stevens Puritan/Congregationalists ancestors were probably turning in their graves when he converted). He remained Catholic throughout his life, and received the last rites a week before he passed.
Father Teaching Son
My father was not a touchy-feely guy. My grandfather was not either. My dad took care of his children. He paid for me and my four brothers to go to parochial school for 12 years–quite an accomplishment for a blue collar guy working two jobs most of his life.
I believe my dad taught me other fatherly attributes, as I have reflected back since his death. He taught me the importance of always taking care of my family. He taught me the importance of keeping a roof over my family’s head. He taught me the importance of working for a living, earning my keep, and paying my bills. We always had the basics going up, nothing fancy. Our car would be an old Chevy wagon–large enough for a family of seven. I remember one time he splurged on air conditioning for the car.
Deep Down Son Learned From Father
I did not recognize these fatherly attributes of my dad when I was in my teenage years (the 1960’s). I left home at 18, quit going to Mass, joined the military, and traveled the world. I married at 21, had a son at 22, and divorced by the time I was 29. Yet, I went to college, while working full time. I kept custody of my son, kept that roof over our heads and kept paying our bills. My formative first eighteen years I now know influenced me deeply.
Faith of my Youth
I was drawn back to the faith of my youth in my 40’s through the grace of God. (I am convinced that it was through the many years my parents spent on their knees in prayer). I raised my son without the Catholic faith, thinking wrongly at the time that he should choose his own faith. I started praying to Saint Joseph nightly and when I went to Mass to ask for his intercession with God our Father. I asked Saint Joseph to intercede on my behalf to help make me a better husband, father, and grandfather. This started my devotion to Saint Joseph. I believe my parents did not give up on me, and I experienced the power that their prayer had on my life.
Joseph and the Annunciation
We know very little about Saint Joseph. The acceptable sources are St Matthew’s and St Luke’s Gospels. It appears that he was born in Bethlehem, the city of David. We know he was living in Nazareth, and that he probably moved there for work. Although not completely known for sure, Joseph was probably betrothed to Mary at the time of the Annunciation.
We know he did not leave Mary when Mary told him she was with Child. This must have been a difficult decision. Jewish law stated that he could have had her stoned for adultery. Matthew tells us that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.” Joseph then took Mary as his wife. (Matthew 1:19, 20, 24).
Joseph as Protector
For a simple man to realize at some point that his wife and Son were “different” and that he was to see to their safety and well-being must have weighed heavily on Joseph. St Luke (2:33) tells us that Joseph was “wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him.” We know Joseph was a protector of his family, and that he fled to Egypt when told by an angel in his sleep to do so (Matthew 2:13). We know after several years that Joseph then returned with his family to Nazareth.
Joseph as Father
We know Joseph was a carpenter, and probably taught Jesus that trade. We know he was a hard worker, loyal, put a roof over his family, and knew the meaning of sacrifice. Joseph was a follower of the Jewish faith, and probably passed this on to Jesus when He was young. Jesus must have looked up to Joseph with respect, and love. Joseph must have loved Jesus as his son. Jesus must have learned manly traits from Joseph, as a father passes this on to his son.
Jesus and Joseph
Jesus has a heavenly Father, and also an earthly father who raised him from childhood. Jesus must have held a special place for Joseph in his heart, for the man who sacrificed for his family, who protected his family from harm. We know from Luke (2:42-51)that Joseph and Mary anguished when Jesus at 12 strayed during the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jesus was spreading his teenage wings, while Joseph and Mary still saw him as a boy. After this episode, we hear no more of Joseph. We can surmise that when Joseph passed Jesus grieved his earthly passing. I know that feeling well, the passing of a father.
Official Devotion to St Joseph
The early Church devotions concentrated mostly on the martyrs. The Church in the East had devotions to Saint Joseph as early as the fourth century. St Helena may have built a basilica in the Bethlehem in his honor around that time. In the West, the first known church dedicated to St Joseph was at Bologna in the year 1129. Many saints had devotions to St Joseph: St Thomas Aquinas, St Bernard, St Bridget of Sweden, St Vincent Ferrer, St Bernadine of Siena, and St Teresa of Avila. Sixtus IV (1471-84) added Saint Joseph to the Roman calendar for 19 March. Saint Joseph was added to the Litany of Saints by Benedict XIII in 1726. Pius IX in 1870 declared Saint Joseph patron of the Catholic Church. Later pontiffs, Leo XIII, and St Pius X added honor and glory to 19 March feast day for Saint Joseph. In 1962, Saint Joseph’s name was added to the Canon, an honor bestowed by Pope John XXIII .
Devotion to St Joseph for Fathers and Grandfathers
Joseph, husband of Mary, and earthly father to Jesus was by reports a simple religious man. He was the protector of Mary and Jesus. He provided for their safety and welfare.
If a man is looking for a devotional saint, one who I believe must have a special place in both Mary’s and Jesus’ hearts because of his place in their lives, they should look no further than Saint Joseph.
Because of mankind’s fallen nature, no father is perfect. We all have our faults. We all make mistakes. Saint Joseph was a simple man. He took care of his family. I reflect upon my dad, and am grateful for all he did for me and all he gave me. He also took care of his family, with what attributes he was raised with. I believe he mostly did his best. I wonder now if God was kind to him, and forgiving at my dad’s personal judgment. I believe my dad’s nature was that he walked in the City of God as much as he could.
I post this on Saint Joseph the Worker’s feast day, in memory of Saint Joseph and my Father.
Dad, Requiescat in pace.
Saint Joseph the Worker, Ora pro nobis.
Image: Crop of St Joseph with the Infant Jesus, artist: Guido Reni, circa: 1620. (2)