A river. A road. A county. A hospital, bank and parishes, too: a medical system, a valley, parks and many schools. All of these places, organizations and businesses are named for the same man, the same lay father, the same saint: the beloved St. Joseph, whose feast day is March 19.
Commonly found across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend but especially on the western half, his esteemed name may be easy to take for granted. St. Joseph, of the lineage and family of David, husband of Mary, mother of God, and foster father of Jesus, lived on earth thousands of years ago. He was a simple, poor carpenter in northern Israel. Holy Scripture records not a word he said.
The St. Joseph River was named by French Jesuits in 1673. Mission St. Joseph was founded by French explorers in Michiana in 1680. A 1689 land grant signed by the French-Canadian governor general gave property to the Jesuit missionaries. The Miami and Potawatomi tribes already were living there in harmony with their new neighbors.
A fort followed in 1691, called St. Joseph of the Lakes. It sits just north of Niles, Michigan. Later, in the 1820s, the American Fur Trading Company set up what it called its “Big St. Joseph Station” in the area. Schools, counties, a hospital and streets all followed suit.
The actions of St. Joseph are remembered well in the Bible: his just and upright choices regarding his beloved fiancée, Mary, his swift and obedient movements to follow God’s will after dreams in the night, his steady, strong protection of his little family, his loving and faithful obedience to God’s law when presenting Jesus in the temple and his humble work as a carpenter. The hidden life of Jesus, for much of His 33 years of life, was quietly supported and nurtured by St. Joseph. One can clearly see why Joseph was declared the universal patron of the Church in 1870, after hundreds of years of people asking for his intercession.
The “strong and silent type,” St. Joseph also reminds us well of a model of manhood. Putting others’ needs before his own, he cared for and loved Mary as God instructed him to do — instead of how he might have chosen. Modern society often takes for granted the provision and protection that good, holy men provide. St. Joseph offers a reminder of this handsome masculinity, whose strength is used for the weakest and most vulnerable and whose hard work is used for the needy. St. Joseph’s humility is used for the benefit of others, not himself. May the Church continue to support and guide such faithful men in the manner in which God created them.
Perhaps we could ponder for a moment who or what in our lives could use some fatherly, saintly protection and intercession, some unwavering patronage. May this popular namesake in our diocese inspire us to live with the same faith in God, openness and obedience to His divine will and charity toward our own families, and help us to show them His loving care, strong and sure. Who better to guide our region than he, purest lily and terror of demons, who held the lantern and guided the way for the light of the world Himself?
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