The United States celebrates Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June. Many countries with Catholic heritage, however, such as Portugal and Spain, have already honored fathers on March 19: the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary and patron saint of fathers.
It’s easy to overlook Joseph. None of his words were included in the Christian Bible. In Islam, the Qur’an omits that entirely, although it includes Jesus and Mary by name; In fact, it refers more to Mary than to the Christian Gospels. And while Catholic tradition accords the highest regard to the Virgin Mary, it places less emphasis on the importance of Joseph—there’s even a joke that a Sunday school student thought Jesus was the parent’s name. Were “Verge ‘n Marie”, after hearing her name so much more than her.
However, in the Bible, Saint Joseph is portrayed as playing an important role in the life of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity. In Catholic culture, Joseph is still an important role model of fatherhood and faith.
The husband of Mary, the father of Jesus – on earth
Most of the biblical descriptions of Joseph are in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke called the Infant Narrative, which describe the birth and childhood of Jesus.
According to the Gospels, Mary, a virgin to Joseph’s fiancée, conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit—and therefore Christians regard Jesus as the Son of God. However, most Christians understand Joseph as the one true father in every way except biological, as Joseph was the legal father who raised Jesus.
As someone who has studied Catholic beliefs about Mary, I have argued that it is wrong to interpret her “betrayal” as a modern-day “engagement”. Jewish custom in that time period consisted of a two-stage marriage: first a legal contract of marriage, later a party in which the husband took his wife to his home. This is shown in the Gospels: Joseph learned that Mary was waiting for him before living with him, so he planned to divorce her; But an angel commanded him not to, but to take his wife to his house. Therefore, Joseph was already Mary’s legal husband when Jesus became pregnant.
Some Christians believe that after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had many children together. Jesus’ brothers and sisters are mentioned in the Gospels. However, Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that these verses refer to other relatives, not actual siblings. Jesus taught that children have an obligation to support their parents, but when He was dying, He assigned Mary to look after His Apostle John, not a brother.
Catholics believe that Mary and Joseph have what the Catholic Church calls a “Josephite marriage”—that is, one that meets Catholicism’s requirements for true marriage, such as fidelity, but does not involve intercourse.
Like any parent, Joseph had his challenges. For example, at one point, while they were traveling, they and Mary lost 12-year-old Jesus for three days. But in Catholic teachings, he models faithful fatherhood. Joseph raised his family as a carpenter, and followed God’s instructions to care for them. He took his son’s name and circumcised him, presented him in the temple in Jerusalem, and whenever possible, took him to the temple on holy days according to Jewish law. Joseph also protected Jesus from King Herod of Judea, who wanted to kill the child by taking Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt and then to Nazareth.
Significance in Catholic Cultures
For Catholics, Joseph is the second greatest saint after Mary, because she knew, loved and served Jesus more than just Joseph. In 1870, Pope Pius IX declared Joseph the patron saint of the entire Catholic Church.
There are only two days for that in the Catholic liturgical calendar. Joseph’s primary celebration honors him as the husband of Mary, and takes place on March 19. It is a “seriousness”—a global celebration that requires specific liturgies—and in some countries, Catholics are obliged to attend Mass. Many Italians celebrate this day. The altar or bread table of Saint Joseph offers free food to all, as a way of thanking the saint for his help.
May 1 is an optional feast honoring Joseph in his role as an activist. Pope Pius XII instituted the celebration in 1955 to give a Christian dimension to International Workers’ Day, also known as International Labor Day or May Day, and to counter its Marxist roots.
Joseph also participates in the Universal Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the Sunday after Christmas, as well as some local commemorations. For example, Saint Joseph, a community of priests and religious brothers, celebrates the wedding of Joseph and Mary on 23 January.
year of saint joseph
In 2020 an American priest, Rev. Donald Calloway, published a popular book called “Consecration to St. Joseph”. This guide encourages Catholics—many of whom traditionally dedicate themselves to Mary—to dedicate their lives to Joseph as their spiritual father. Calloway outlined a 33-day program to prepare readers for a ceremony in which Joseph himself was entrusted with care.
Later, Calloway wrote to Pope Francis asking him to declare a “year of St. Joseph” for the church. The pope did not say whether the letter affected him, but Francis declared the first year of St. Joseph from December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021, for Catholics to deepen their knowledge of the saint. and praying for a blessing from God through Joseph’s intercession.
Francis wrote a public letter entitled “With a Father’s Heart”, which highlights Joseph’s paternal qualities, such as tenderness, courage, and self-giving. “Father is not born, but made. … whenever a man accepts responsibility for another’s life, somehow he becomes that person’s father,” Francis wrote.
Joseph is considered the custodian of a happy death because the Bible implies that he died in the company of Jesus and Mary, before Jesus’ ministry and death. But even in life, Catholicism sees Joseph as an encouraging role model: a man who fulfilled his important role in the family with hope and joy.