St. Joseph, model father - Part 1
The end of April 1994 holds the record for the largest one-day tornado outbreak in North Texas. Linda Sepanski from Sacred Heart Parish in Muenster remembers when she went to pick up her second-grader Kate from the parochial school that day.
Her other two daughers were home, but Kate was at school practicing for her first Holy Communion, Sepanski recalls. When she arrived, a fellow parishioner motioned for her to come into the church basement, as the skies started to darken. In the basement, a religious sister led the students in praying a Rosary.
Tornadoes that day struck Alvord, Bowie, St. Jo, and Windthorst, with an EF2 causing severe damage in Gainesville — just minutes away. But Muenster was spared damage. In fact, Muenster has been spared damage since 1893, when the mostly Catholic citizens of the town dedicated themselves to St. Joseph for his protection.
“Mommy, I wish Muenster could be everywhere,” Sepanski recalled her 4-year-old daughter Lauren saying at the time. “I said, ‘Honey, Muenster can’t be everywhere, but people everywhere can ask St. Joseph to pray for them.’”
In promulgating this year as the Holy Year of St. Joseph from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021, Pope Francis hopes to build that devotion to the foster-father of Jesus everywhere.
The Holy Year
“St. Joseph is an important part of our Church and who we are as a people of faith,” said Father Dan Kelley, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Arlington.
“It’s important for us to recognize the importance of St. Joseph and have that image of father in our families,” Fr. Kelley added. “I know there are many families that struggle with that idea because of our modern society, some families don’t have fathers living in their homes.”
For the holy year, Greg Brown, a district deputy for the Knights of Columbus, is encouraging all of the councils in his jurisdiction to pray a novena to St. Joseph as a group once during the year and to share spiritual literature from the Knights’ “Catholic Information Services” program with their respective parishes.
“As brother Knights, we look to St. Joseph to be devoted to God, to be diligent in our witness and in our practice of our faith and to come to the defense of this faith that we share in common,” Brown said. “That is the root of who we are.”
Despite an already existing devotion to St. Joseph, lifelong Muensterite and newly-ordained Deacon Gary Endres said his devotion has increased since his discernment and formation process.
“My middle name is Joseph, so St. Joseph has always been my feast day,” said Dcn. Endres. “I pray to St. Joseph and St. Mary to protect us by the power of God. Without even realizing it, my devotion to St. Joseph has increased. I asked him a lot of times to help me be a good father and serve as a good deacon.”
Chaste guardian of the Virgin
In his decree launching the special year dedicated to St. Joseph, Pope Francis wrote “Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom.
“He never made himself the center of things,” the pope continued. “He did not think of himself but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.”
Although married, Joseph and Mary lived and raised a family together without a sexual relationship. As her “most chaste spouse” — as recited in the Divine Praises — Joseph maintained a reverential respect for her perpetual virginity and not only protected her but remained faithful.
Alex Lopez, president of the Fort Worth chapter of Young Catholic Professionals, said that — like St. Joseph — he hopes to be patient, caring, and understanding, while still maintaining a strong masculinity, to prepare him for his future family.
Lopez is a parishioner of St. Joseph in Arlington, where he sings in the choir. He said, “It’s really encouraging knowing he was able to be such a strong foundation for his family. Me being a young adult and a man, I want to provide for my future family and to be a foundation for the people around me.”
Diligent protector of Christ
St. Joseph was warned in a dream to leave at once for Egypt to save his adopted Child’s life (Mt 2:13-15). In this moment, and in many others throughout the life of Christ, Joseph protected and reared Him, helping form the human nature of Jesus.
“Fathers are not born but made,” writes Pope Francis. “A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father.”
Fr. Kelley said the holy year promulgated by Pope Francis is a call to contemplate St. Joseph’s role as a faithful spouse and faithful father of Jesus.
As a priest, who is addressed as “Father,” Fr. Kelley said St. Joseph can serve as a role model for him and his brother priests.
“People remind me, especially on Father’s Day, that my children go home every day after being here,” he said. “I think a priest should see himself as an important role model and father figure for the parish community and for families in the parish.”
Sepanski noted that St. Joseph was a part of everything she did growing up, including signing notes with “JMJ” — “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” It’s fitting that this year has been dedicated to Joseph, she said, because just as he protected Jesus, he is also a powerful intercessor for the unborn.
“Dear St. Joseph, so strong and powerful, yet so humble. He was the protector of the Christ Child, who was innocent,” she said. “We’re living in a time when restrictions protecting the innocent unborn are being lifted, so what a time to pray to St. Joseph.”