(Photo-credit: Nathalie Dumas)
On December 8, 2020, Pope Francis surprised us by calling a year dedicated to St. Joseph. You can imagine the joy of the Franciscan family around the world and especially of our fellow citizens of Canada, of whom St. Joseph is the patron saint and the holy protector. Let us first pay heed to these few words of the Holy Father which are at the beginning of his apostolic letter “With a father’s heart”:
“I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. 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. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone.”
The devotion to St. Joseph was born from the tenderness of which the Middle Ages surrounded the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus. Historians agree that the Franciscans were the first to introduce the feast of St. Joseph to Europe. It was imposed on the entire Order in 1399. Then, in 1461, the general chapter of the brothers set this feast on March 19, the probable day of the death of the Holy Patriarch, according to the Greek Fathers. It was a Franciscan pope, Sixtus IV, who proposed the feast to the whole Church in 1476.
One might ask why the Franciscans favour this patronage of St. Joseph? It is because the Franciscan Order has always had an extraordinary affection for the foster Father of Jesus. Indeed, St Francis and his brothers loved the Holy Patriarch of Nazareth. It was a necessary consequence of the affinities of the Franciscan soul with the soul of St. Joseph with regard to poverty, humility and simplicity.
When devotion to St. Joseph filled Europe with its scents, it crossed the Atlantic, spreading into the virgin forests of the New World. The Franciscans Recollects, who arrived in 1615, brought the Christian faith to Canada. Pioneers of Christ on our shores, they were therefore also the heralds of the glory and power of St. Joseph. The same year they arrived in Canada, in 1615, Fr. Le Caron entrusted St. Joseph with the mission of the Huron. The Recollects are the ones who, in 1624, dedicated Canada to the Head of the Holy Family. “We have celebrated great solemnity,” writes Fr. Joseph Le Caron, “where all the inhabitants assembled as well as several Native Americans, fulfilling a vow to St. Joseph whom we chose as Patron of the Land and protector of this nascent church.”
Saint Joseph was therefore officially established patron saint of Canada and of the Canadian Church. This consecration of the colony to the august leader of the Holy Family was to be recognized by later generations. The Jesuit Relationship of 1637 states that “the feast of the glorious Saint Joseph, father, patron and protector of New France, is one of the great solemnities of this country.”
Canadian devotion to the Holy Bridegroom of Mary was born from this feast and consecration, which was for us the source of so many divine blessings: especially the Oratory of St. Joseph, which is recognized throughout the world as an important centre of devotion to the Holy Patriarch of Nazareth.
You whom the King of Heaven
gave to the Virgin Mother as her husband,
You whom Jesus honours as a father,
O St. Joseph, O St. Joseph
O St. Joseph pray, pray for us!
(Traditional Song of St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal)
March in the year 2021, the year dedicated to Saint Joseph and the year of the coronavirus pandemic.