The Year of St. Joseph
Pope Francis’ epilogue to the year 2020 was an apostolic letter titled Patris Corde, or “With a Father’s Heart.” In his letter, the pope declared a Year of St. Joseph, marking the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron saint of the Universal Church. But the letter wasn’t just an acknowledgment of Joseph’s patronage, it was also a reflection on a year indelibly marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how ‘our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked,’” he said, listing medical care providers, grocery store workers, cleaning personnel and other frontline and essential workers. “... Each of us can discover in Joseph — the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence — an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
Though little is mentioned of the earthly father of Jesus in the Bible (none of his words appear in the canonical Gospels and there is limited information recorded on his life), he is the frequent subject of Catholic teachings. According to the pope’s letter, other than the Virgin Mary, no one is mentioned more in the tradition than St. Joseph.
Daniel R.J. Joyce, S.J. ’88, executive director of the University’s mission programs, explains, “The traditions around St. Joseph present him with so many of the everyday heroic virtues with which we all can identify. He is the good and just person who lives a life of simple fidelity to others as a hard-working parent and caring neighbor to all. Our University patron is the ideal everyday hero who gets up and makes the world a better place. This is why he has been the subject of art, literature and devotion for over two centuries.”
The lessons he instills as a courageous and working father, accepting of God’s will and his role in salvation, are revered by Christians around the world. In fact, Joseph is the patron saint of several cities, dioceses and countries including Austria, China, Korea, Mexico and Peru. In addition to his canonization as patron saint of the Universal Church in 1870, he was also declared patron saint of workers in 1955, and is the patron saint of a host of other causes, including fathers, immigrants, expectant mothers and families.
In celebration of the Year of St. Joseph, we’ve invited four faculty members to reflect on the images and meaning of St. Joseph as an essential figure of the Gospels and how he can inform our lives today.
Patron Saint of Workers
Nancy Ruth Fox, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Economics
In his Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde, Pope Francis wrote that “St. Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. … Working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us.” In this way, St. Joseph shows us that we are made imago dei, in the image of God, a doctrine that the three Abrahamic traditions share. Work is not only about producing a good or service, it is about the dignity inherent in that work. Human dignity requires a living wage.
In 1938, after signing the Fair Labor Standards Act that established the federal minimum wage, former President Roosevelt warned: “Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day ... tell you ... that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.” The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has not been increased since 2009. The purchasing power of the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968. That 1968 minimum wage of $1.60 is the equivalent of about $12 today. Someone working full time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 earns about $15,080 annually, which is below the poverty threshold of $26,500 for a family of four. In Pennsylvania, you would have to earn over $19 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment while spending the recommended 30% of your income on housing.
In November 2020, Florida voted to increase the state minimum wage to $15, joining Washington, D.C., and 29 states that have minimum wages higher than the federal level. In Philadelphia, municipal workers earn $13.75 an hour, which will increase to $15 in July 2022.
In 2019, a group of over 100 economists, including Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein, current members of President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisors, sent a letter to President Trump in support of a $15 federal minimum wage.
A family without work is particularly vulnerable to difficulties, tensions, estrangement and even break-up. How can we speak of human dignity without working to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living?”
“A $15 minimum wage by 2024 would result in $121 billion in higher wages for 39.7 million low-wage workers, which would also benefit their families and their communities. Since lower-paid workers spend a large share of their additional earnings, this injection of wages would modestly stimulate consumer demand, business activity, and job growth,” read the letter.
So, why could there possibly be any opposition? As with any public policy, there are costs and benefits. In evaluating the 2021 Raise the Wage bill, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined that the number of people in poverty would be reduced by 0.9 million, but employment would be reduced by 1.4 million workers. Firms would experience increased labor costs, and the federal deficit would increase. Other economic studies have found that an increase in minimum wage would result in a small but significant decrease in employment, typically among low-income workers, ironically those whom the increase in minimum wage is intended to help.
There is often tension between a market outcome and social justice. In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II wrote, “[The worker has the right to] a ‘just wage.’” Princeton economist Alan S. Blinder wrote, “The unfettered market system shows no mercy.” How do we as a society decide between “profits” and “prophets?” As an economist and a woman of faith, I am guided by University of Wisconsin economist Rebecca Blank. She wrote, “As an economist, I believe in markets … The key question is not ‘Should there be a market?’ but ‘What are the limits to markets as an organizing structure for economic life?’” She concludes, “There are times … when we as a society need to respond more effectively to the human pain caused by market outcomes.” On the issue of minimum wage, I choose prophets.
Patron Saint of Families
Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
If we imagined Jesus as a child in the U.S., He would be a precocious brown-skinned boy whose father, St. Joseph, did manual labor for a living. He would have had experience as an undocumented migrant in a country that was not his own for a time. And he would be living under a regime in his own country that treated Him, at best, as a second-class citizen. As we consider a Year of St. Joseph and reflect on his status as the patron saint for families, I would like to think about how our society treats families like his and how we can strive to do better.
Children of color, like Jesus, experience high rates of poverty in the U.S. More than one in every five Black or Hispanic children live in poverty — this is a rate that is higher than any other country like ourselves. In the U.S., we have historically not prioritized offering government support to children, as other countries do, because many do not want to help the parents for fear that this will depress employment. We don’t recognize that many poor parents are hard working, like Joseph. Included in this latest stimulus package was a time-limited expansion of the child tax credit, which will serve as a monthly child allowance for families who make under a certain income. Researchers estimate that this could reduce child poverty by nearly half, strengthening the safety net for families.
The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.”
According to the Bible, Jesus’ family had to flee to Egypt soon after he was born, out of fear of violent persecution from King Herod. How do we greet children, teens and their families when they leave their countries because of violence, and make a treacherous journey to our borders? Though there are social service organizations like Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, that welcome them and provide shelter for a time, our governmental agencies have acted inhumanely at times. Would we have wanted Jesus to be forcibly separated from Mary and Joseph at the border of Egypt and kept in a separate prison, only to have his parents deported back to the province of Judea while Jesus was kept in an Egyptian shelter? This is what occurred in the U.S. with hundreds of children, some of whom are only now being reunited with their parents. If Jesus and his family had to stay in Egypt, would we have wanted them to remain in the shadows as undocumented immigrants? Or would we want to provide them a pathway to be citizens with full rights and responsibilities?
Joseph devoted himself to supporting his family and, together with Mary, navigating them through difficult times. The Catholic social teaching principle of the call to family, community and participation promotes the idea that, collectively, we all have a role to play in supporting marginalized families such that children can flourish and grow in the context of their communities. Promoting policies that create a strong safety net to support vulnerable children and families is one way to fulfill this call.
The Just and Good Man
Tim Swift, Ph.D.
Professor of Management
Ignatian prayer encourages us to pray with our imagination — to insert ourselves into scenes from the Bible. One wonderful Jesuit, Ignatius of Loyola, prayed over the biblical story of the Nativity in his Spiritual Exercises. He realized that the stable was probably full of bags of grain for the animals inside, along with the equipment used to care for them. Joseph probably needed to remove the clutter from that stable in order to make room for Mary and her impending child. St. Ignatius in prayer imagined himself helping Joseph empty the stable and get things organized. Joseph thanked him for being so helpful.
That is Joseph. The man in the background, doing whatever was required to pave the way for our Savior, and to care for the woman he loved so dearly. He must have been a man of great humility.
Joseph also must have been a man of supreme courage and moral certitude. He married a young woman expecting a child, despite the scandal this may have brought upon him. He endured great physical and emotional peril while taking Mary and the baby Jesus to Bethlehem where he helped Mary bring our Lord into the world, and later when Joseph hurried them into Egypt to flee Herod’s soldiers.
Those of us living the mission of Jesuit education at Saint Joseph's University as faculty members accept some of these same noble duties. How do members of the Saint Joseph’s faculty emulate Jesus’ earthly father? When and where do we work hard, yet stand back in order to promote ad majorem Dei gloriam, “for the greater glory of God?”
St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.”
SJU faculty believe in cura personalis — we care for the whole person. We strive to do what is best for our students by encouraging personal and professional excellence, physical and emotional health, and by modeling lives lived with and for others. We faculty stand back with quiet satisfaction and let our students shine; in that way, perhaps we feel as Joseph did after he did all he could to prepare his earthly son Jesus for His life and ministry.
During the 2021/21 academic year, even more is being asked of us faculty. Many of our students’ families are victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our students have lost parents, grandparents and other close relatives and friends. Many of the fruits of youth have been taken from our students, whose social lives have been restricted due to safety precautions. Many families live with the stress of financial uncertainty as the pandemic continues to ravage our economy. We accompany our students during these sad times, affording us extra opportunity to provide encouragement, guidance, solace.
As Joseph remained behind the scenes, providing stability, safety and love for his family in ways that paved the way for the Glory of God, so too can we educators, who stand behind our students with pride and love as they “set the world on fire.”
Patron Saint of Immigrants
Richard N. Gioioso, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of Latin American and Latinx Studies
Migration — the movement of people in and through territories — is a daily phenomenon and one which has shaped the entirety of history. It is also a fundamentally human aspect of international and local relations, and has profound and transformative impacts on societies, affecting politics, cultures, landscapes, racial, ethnic and gender dynamics, and family and kinship ties. In our lifetimes, we have witnessed and participated in the increased mobility of peoples through globalization and the spread of transportation and communication networks, and migration remains a compelling issue in society — for political leaders and public officials, social activists, business owners, managers and employees, religious groups, international organizations, households and academics.
Across campus at Saint Joseph’s, students, faculty and staff actively pursue scholarship and research, teaching and learning, and service in and with immigrant communities in the Philadelphia area and beyond. St. Joseph’s patronage of immigrants provides a framework and model for us to engage with issues about immigration and interactions with immigrants and immigrant communities by emphasizing our common humanity and solidarity with those who are at various stages of their human experience — in transit, newly settling, firmly established — in whichever categorical designation they fall.
The Holy Family had to face concrete problems like every other family, like so many of our migrant brothers and sisters who, today too, risk their lives to escape misfortune and hunger. In this regard, I consider St. Joseph the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty.”
My own research and teaching are informed by and benefit from St. Joseph’s patronage of immigrants in various ways. Over the past 15 years, I have performed research in many venues with diverse populations in Latin America and among Latin American immigrants in the United States. These encompass residents of the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Central American artists in South Florida, young adult entrepreneurs in Cuba, and families in rural El Salvador. Each individual and community has its own nuances and requires awareness of and adaptability to the realities that have characterized their experiences, approaching questions under study and research participants with care. This is especially the case where participants experience vulnerabilities and disadvantages in their everyday lives, such as poverty and undetermined or unauthorized legal status. The understanding and humility embodied in the figure of St. Joseph is both a methodological and interpersonal tool for doing research that overcomes the subject-object divide and notable differences that might characterize us as individuals.
The compassion and support offered to us through the example of St. Joseph accompany me in the classroom as well, in and through the controversial discussions that arise in the study of contemporary international migration and the politics of U.S. immigration. Sometimes, when assessing specific immigration laws, policies, regulations and practices are under examination, emotions flare and debates get heated over what are the “right” or “wrong” factors to consider and decisions to make. This is especially the case regarding how hot-button issues are treated in the media, e.g., refugees, asylum-seekers, border security, DREAMers, the undocumented. No matter what the topic, however, we benefit from building upon the shared recognition of migration as a human experience and the emphasis on immigrants not as nameless or faceless sojourners, but as individuals and groups deserving of dignity and understanding based on our common humanity, demonstrated by St. Joseph himself.
Five Facts about St. Joseph
- The University’s statue of St. Joseph the Worker, located in the courtyard of Barbelin Hall, was donated by night school students in 1967.
- The lily is a symbol often associated with St. Joseph, which represents God’s promise to Joseph and his character as a person who lives justly. Legend has it that the walking staff of Joseph sprouted lilies as a sign that he was to marry Mary, the Mother of God, cuing from the biblical passage, “The just man shall blossom like the lily” (Hosea 14:5). The lily can be seen in the University’s seal in the lower left quadrant and in the University’s logo over the letter J.
- The first apostolic mission entrusted by the pope to the Society of Jesus was given on the Feast of St. Joseph nearly 500 years ago. It was on this day that the mission of the Jesuits began – and continues to this day around the world.
- Students often rub the foot of the St. Joseph the Dreamer statue to ask him for help on their exams. The statue is situated in the grotto behind the Chapel of St. Joseph and serves as a space for prayer and reflection.
- Pope Francis keeps a statue of a sleeping St. Joseph on his desk where he leaves notes of special intercessions. A replica can be found in the Chapel of St. Joseph, and visitors are invited to share their petitions. “[St. Joseph] is a man of silence and strength. … Even when he is asleep, he is taking care of the Church,” said the pope.