Joseph, the Adoptive-Father Saint

Author: Fr. Don Fetters, C.S.C.

For a man who made few public appearances and uttered not a recorded word, St. Joseph has gotten around. 

St Joseph

I was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana, where you had to ask: Which St. Joseph parish, Mishawaka or South Bend? Which St. Joseph Hospital? Which St. Joseph Street? And, you were very likely to have your first savings account in the St. Joseph Bank. Fortunately, there is just one St. Joseph River, which continues to meander through various communities in Northern Indiana.

Though I didn’t attend St. Joseph High School in South Bend, I did my Holy Cross Postulancy Program at St. Joseph Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, just a few years before spending a summer as a seminarian pilgrimage guide at St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal. It was there that I met St. André Bessette – not in person, in case there’s a doubt!

St Joseph Statue outside of the Oratory

At the base of Mount Royal, just before starting the 99-stair climb (on your knees, if you wish) up to the base of the Oratory’s Crypt Church you’re overwhelmed by the monument to St. Joseph with the inscription “Ite ad Joseph.” That is the phrase St. André repeated so often to those who came to seek his help: “Go to Joseph.”

And so it was André, the man who repelled any attempt to draw attention to himself, who sent me off to get to know Joseph, a similarly self-effacing man who was Jesus’ adoptive father and most importantly André’s too. It’s that particular facet of the humble saint that struck me most and has stayed with me ever since. 

The Brothers of Holy Cross (originally the Brothers of St. Joseph) were for us during formation the clearest earthly example of the humble but effective adoptive-father saint. They took on — even without knowing it — our informal formation for apostolic religious life in Holy Cross. They taught us how to work hard, not to take ourselves too seriously, and not to pretend to know it all. They taught us how to fix a flat tire, castrate a pig, and milk a cow. In effect, they became for many of us our adoptive fathers in religious life.

When we reminisce about our formation in Holy Cross (something that happens with more frequency as time goes on), stories abound about those adoptive-father brothers we recall with great fondness, gratitude, and respect.

St Joseph Medal

On the day of their final profession Holy Cross Brothers receive the medal of St. Joseph. It’s a sign of their origins as a band of teachers early in the 19th century, but even more a sign of their imitation of the adoptive-father saint. They have worn that symbol proudly as a sign of that important role they played for us and for so many other young people they came to guide.

The religious family of Holy Cross celebrates three great feast days during the year: Our principal feast, and the particular feast of the sisters, is Our Lady of Sorrows. For the priests, it’s the Sacred Heart.  And the Saint we celebrate today is the holy patron of the Brothers of Holy Cross whom we also celebrate with sincere gratitude for how their imitation of the adoptive-father saint has meant so much to so many.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Fr Don Fetters, CSC

Fr. Don Fetters, C.S.C., professed Final Vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross on September 12, 1975 and was ordained a priest on September 4, 1976! He has served for most of his religious life and priesthood in the Congregation’s missions in Latin America. Currently, he serves in Perú, working in vocations and formation. Learn more about the patrons of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and read Fr. Don’s vocation story.

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