Sunday, March 29, 2015

Good Ol' St. Joe

By: Sr. AliceAnn O'Neill, SC

One of my spiritual directors often talked to me about how St. Joseph was “her guy.” She said St. Joseph always, ALWAYS helped her whenever she was in need or afraid or just needed a parking space! I thought it was amusing hearing my director’s stories of how St. Joseph helped her with everyday miracles. Elizabeth Seton has always been my daily saint and she helped me find incredible parking spaces when I taught at the University of Dayton, which if you know UD, is literally a miracle! I did not know much about St. Joseph until I studied SC community history during novitiate.

St. Joseph statue in front of
Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse
of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.
Elizabeth Seton and her friends, the first Sisters of Charity in the U.S., started a tradition of naming the community by where the motherhouse was located. The first community was called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s because the sisters lived in St. Joseph’s Valley near Emmitsburg, Maryland. The early SC community had a deep devotion to St. Joseph as protector and father of the community. Elizabeth Seton herself wrote - I should say exclaimed - this prayer, “St. Joseph! holy Patriarch! Your peace! Your simplicity! Your love for Jesus and Mary!”

While some of the original Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph were missioned to Cincinnati, they decided to stay in Ohio and become a diocesan community to continue on as Sisters of Charity rather than join the Daughters of Charity. Our first motherhouse in Cincinnati was called St. Vincent’s but since 1869 we lived on the property of our current motherhouse called Mount St. Joseph on-the-Ohio. Located on top of a hill with a steep cliff overlooking the Ohio river, the sisters often worried about the cliff under the motherhouse sliding down the hillside. Our sisters put a St. Joseph statue at the top of the cliff and then built a retaining wall behind it for extra support. Prayer and practicality…gotta love it!

One of our Cincinnati “mystic seven” founding mothers, Sister Josephine Harvey, received a large, regal St. Joseph statue for a golden jubilee gift. A few months after the community finished the first Mount St. Joseph motherhouse building in 1885, it burned completely to the ground! All of the sisters were safe but all that remained of the building was a portion of the clock tower wall and Mother Josephine’s St. Joseph statue. Community folklore stated there was not even any soot from the fire on the statue.
St. Joseph statue in the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse.
Many religious communities have viewed St. Joseph as protector and patron and have similar stories of a mysterious man who knocked on the door and offered to build stairs or chapels. St. Joseph seems to have been a down-to-earth, practical father and caretaker who was also a handyman carpenter. 

I had not spent much of my spiritual life reflecting on St. Joseph until last Christmas when I saw the 2006 movie called The Nativity Story with St. Joseph played by actor Oscar Isaac. This beautiful movie portrayed St. Joseph as having deep faith in God’s plans and offering a great deal of self-sacrifice to bring Mary and Jesus safely to Bethlehem. Perhaps St. Joseph did help Mary bring Jesus into this world himself in that manger. What courage! What I liked best about St. Joseph in this movie was that he was a man who worried, doubted, joked with his friends, wore himself out all day long caring for others, and that Joseph was entrusted by God to care for His most precious gift to our world, His Son, Jesus. Good Ol’ St. Joe!

St. Joseph as portrayed by Oscar Isaac in the 2006 movie The Nativity Story