My earliest memory of St Joseph goes all the way back to the 1950s in my Detroit family home when I would silently watch my father on his knees praying a rosary in front of a picture of St Joseph that hung on the wall of my parents’ bedroom. It was a curious encounter as I witnessed my Protector and Guide praying to his Protector and guide. Fast forward to high school and where do I end up attending? You guessed it, St Joseph’s High School which was operated by the La Salle Christian Brothers. And for my senior graduation trip, before I entered the Franciscan Order, I traveled to Montreal and visited the renowned St Joseph’s Oratory which is the largest Christian church in the world under the patronage of St Joseph.
A final Josephite flashback takes me to my first years of formation as a Franciscan postulant. For the first three years of my formation I carried a rather cumbersome statue of St Joseph from assignment to assignment. It was about three feet high and it once occupied a sacred space in one of the classrooms of my St Joseph’s High School. I acquired the statue at a “going out of business” sale that the Brothers held when they closed the high school in 1964. I remember that I hosted a weekly prayer novena in our chapel for my classmates and a few devout souls would attend. My concluding memory involves a mysterious “Joseph’s journey,” not to Egypt but out from my room at the postulant house! Where could he have gone? And, more important, who did this? The mystery of “where” was solved a couple of days after the flight from my room as I knelt in our main chapel and looked up. There was mt St Joseph statue! Standing proudly in front of the usual statue of St Anthony of Padua who was the patron of the chapel. I never did find out who the culprit of the joke was but it is a fitting example of the ubiquitous nature of St Joseph . . . silent . . . inconspicuous . . . faithful . . . obedient . . . courageous . . . present.
St Joseph happens to be the Patron Saint of Vietnam and its ten million Catholics. He is a perfect choice for these faith filled people. The country enjoys a strong tradition of family values. Both mother and father accept the grueling task of caring for their children and older siblings gladly care for their juniors. Parents will sacrifice everything in order to provide safety, shelter, and education for their offspring. It is very common to see shrines in the homes of the people that contain statues of Joseph and Mary or of the Holy Family. And the devotion to him is further solidified by the fact that probably 70% of all Catholic boys in Vietnam are named Joseph! This can sometimes work in my favor when I am in the presence of a large group of my former students and they ask the inevitable “do you remember me” question. When my memory fails me I can always fall back on the relatively safe “of course! You’re Joseph.” response. Life in Vietnam is a challenge because of the political climate but the people can take comfort in their Protector, St Joseph. So many lessons to learn from my time in Vietnam!
Peace and All Good!