Tag Archives: My Friend Joe

St. Joseph: Watching the Workers

On this Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, enjoy this excerpt from my book, My Friend Joe: Reflections on St. Joseph (Kenmare Press, 2021), available online from Kenmare Press and on Amazon in paperback and kindle.

Chapter 6: Watching the Workers

“Accompany us in times of prosperity when the opportunity is given for an honest enjoyment of the fruits of our labors; sustain us in our hours of sadness…”

~ Pope Pius XII

          WHILE THERE is a lot we don’t know for sure about the life of St. Joseph, scripture and tradition tell us pretty confidently that he provided for his family with the work of his hands as a carpenter. It is not uncommon to find statues, like this one, depicting St. Joseph the Worker, where he is holding close to his heart the tools of his trade.

          This statue of St. Joseph stands behind Holy Name Medical Center, a hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey, founded in 1925 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and local doctors. Holy Name continues to provide quality care today. This particular scene caught my eye on a winter’s day in January 2019, as I was walking to my car after a meeting at the hospital. My attention was drawn not so much by Joseph as by what just happened to be parked in the background that day—a carpenter’s van. My initial caption for the photo was “St. Joseph checks out the competition.” At the time, I found it to be ironic.

          Every day, no matter what is parked in the background, this statue of St. Joseph watches over the hospital. He has an unobstructed view of the entrance to both the emergency room and the Sister Patricia Lynch Cancer Center. Not only does he watch over the hospital workers who provide compassionate care day in and day out, he also watches over the patients seeking care and the family members who entrust their loved ones to the hospital. He has witnessed a lot of sadness and joy over the years—lives lost, lives healed, and new lives coming into the world.

* * *

          A little over a year after I took this photo, Northern New Jersey became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, Joseph had a lot more to watch over. The parking lot that Joseph overlooks was soon filled with tents to provide a safe space for outdoor testing and screening. Ambulances drove past Joseph as they brought patients with advanced symptoms of COVID-19 to the emergency room. Families dropped loved ones off, unable to enter the hospital with them or even hold their hands as they faced this new and unknown virus. Essential workers, from doctors and nurses to security guards, housekeepers, and kitchen staff, faithfully and courageously arrived for their shifts each day, not sure what they would face in their personal protective equipment. Sadly, several hospital workers lost their own lives to the virus.

          While I may have found it ironic when I snapped the photo of Joseph checking out his fellow carpenters, soon he had lots of construction work to oversee. In just 30 days, the construction and maintenance staff at Holy Name created 276 negative pressure rooms and 120 intensive care beds to accommodate the influx of patients.[1] Their creativity was astounding, especially given that supplies were very limited. Much of the materials they used was purchased at local hardware stores. The spaces they designed ingeniously protected both patients and caregivers. It was nothing short of a miracle, and all under the watchful eye of St. Joseph.

          Our religious community continues to sponsor Holy Name Medical Center. As a member of our Leadership Team, one of my roles is as liaison to our sponsored ministries. All I could really offer during those days was my prayer and a commitment to stay up to date on the situation by calling the hotline set up by the hospital to provide regular updates on the fast-moving crisis for staff and board members. Dr. Ron White recorded the hotline updates. In addition to giving status reports on the numbers of patients being treated in the hospital with coronavirus, he also used the power of storytelling to paint a vivid picture of the heroic work by the hospital’s caregivers, in all departments.

          Each morning, as part of my prayer time, I would dial the phone number, anxious to hear how things were going. Each evening, I would do the same. In between I would hold all the patients, staff, and family members in my prayer. Often, I would think of that statue of St. Joseph the Worker, overlooking all the activity. It gave me comfort, knowing that he was on the job, watching over and protecting all involved, a worker praying for workers in their hour of need.

          During those initial months of quarantine, the voice of Dr. White was a lifeline of sorts for me, offering honesty, humor, and hope amid the crisis. Isolated at home in the safety of my own pandemic bubble with the sisters, I nevertheless felt connected to the heroic efforts taking place just a few miles away at the hospital.

* * *

          I couldn’t help but reflect on our early sisters who, in 1890, answered the call to serve when a smallpox epidemic broke out in Passaic, New Jersey. They too worked tirelessly to provide compassionate care during trying circumstances. And they too did it all while carpenters hammered away adding space on the other end of the building—no doubt also under the watchful eye of St. Joseph. An account of the time says that when that epidemic ended, the sisters were exhausted, while the doctors, visitors, and undertaker marveled at their superhuman courage and greatness of heart that sustained them almost beyond human endurance.[2]

          The Constitutions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace say that Joseph’s “courage to live a life of faith inspires us to trust in God’s abiding love, especially in times of struggle and uncertainty” (Constitution 36). While scripture is light on the details of his daily struggles and work, our Christian story is testament to the fact that he faced uncertainty with courage and greatness of heart. “God acted by trusting in Joseph’s creative courage,” writes Pope Francis.[3] Who better to have standing over the comings and goings of the workers and patients at the hospital, watching out in good times and bad?

From the Tradition

          The Gospel according to Matthew tells us directly, and early on, that Joseph was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1: 19). It’s not until much later, however, when an adult Jesus faces his dubious home crowd in Nazareth, that we hear indirectly about Joseph’s profession. Almost as an aside, his neighbors dismiss Jesus and his message by asking, “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13: 55). Mark’s Gospel echoes the dismissal, “Is he not the carpenter,” (Mark 6:3), leaving out even the oblique reference to Joseph. There we have it—the length and breadth of the scriptural references to the work of Joseph.

          These references, in particular the way the word carpenter is dropped as one snide remark among many, do not seem to make the case that it was considered to be a very dignified or noble profession, at least not in the recorded opinion of these naysayers. Yet tradition expands the biography and profession of Joseph so much that, in 1955, Pope Pius XII announced the creation of a new feast day to be celebrated on May 1st in honor of St. Joseph the Worker, “the humble craftsman of Nazareth,” who personifies the “dignity of the worker.”[4]

* * *

          Human experience teaches us that a skill or trade is often passed down from parent to child. It is therefore not surprising that church tradition, informed by lived experience, fills in some of the details over time.

          For example, texts such as the apocryphal Syriac Infancy Gospels, compiled as early as the sixth century, paint the picture of Jesus helping Joseph in his carpentry work.

And Joseph used to go about through the whole city, and take the Lord Jesus with him, when people sent for him in the way of his trade to make for them doors, and milk-pails, and beds, and chests; and the Lord Jesus was with him wherever he went. As often, therefore, as Joseph had to make anything a cubit or a span longer or shorter, wider or narrower, the Lord Jesus stretched His hand towards it; and as soon as He did so, it became such as Joseph wished. Nor was it necessary for him to make anything with his own hand, for Joseph was not very skillful in carpentry.[5]

          The passage is both practical and mystical, with references to doors, milk-pails and cubits and the awesome power of Jesus even as a child. It also is audacious enough, in order to stress the divinity of Jesus, to throw doubt on the actual human skills and craftsmanship of Joseph!

          Fourteen centuries later in Redemptoris Custos, his apostolic exhortation on St. Joseph, Pope John Paul II claims that the scant references to Josephs’ profession as a carpenter in the canonical Gospels are nevertheless enough to tell the whole story. “This simple word,” carpenter, “sums up Joseph’s entire life.” He was a carpenter who raised his son to know the value and dignity of work. Jesus, “having learned the work of his presumed father,” was known as “the carpenter’s son.”[6]

          John Paul II teaches that through the institution of May 1st as the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, the church recognizes the “special prominence” of human work, especially manual labor. “Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way.” Jesus, working alongside Joseph, “brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.”[7]

Prayer to St. Joseph, Model of Workers[8]

O Glorious Patriarch, St. Joseph, humble and just artisan of Nazareth, thou hast given to all Christians and particularly to us an example of a perfect life through diligent labor and admirable union with Jesus and Mary. Assist us in our daily work in order that we, Catholic artisans, may also see in it an effective means of glorifying God, of sanctifying ourselves, and of being a useful member in the society in which we live. These should be the highest ideals for all our actions.

O Dearest Protector, obtain for us from the Lord humility and simplicity of heart; love for our work and kindness toward our fellow-laborers; conformity to God’s will in the unavoidable trials of this life together with joy in bearing them; recognition of our specific social mission and a sense of responsibility; the spirit and discipline of prayer; docility and respectfulness toward superiors; the spirit of brotherhood [and sisterhood] towards our equals; charity and indulgence with our dependents.

Accompany us in times of prosperity when the opportunity is given for an honest enjoyment of the fruits of our labors; sustain us in our hours of sadness, when Heaven seems to be shut in our regard, and even the very tools with which our hands toil appear to rebel against us.

Grant that, in imitation of thee, we may keep our eyes fixed on our Mother, Mary, thy dearest Spouse, who, as she spun silently in the corner of thy shop, would let her sweetest smile course over her lips. Besides, may we never take our eyes off Jesus, who was busily occupied with thee at the carpenter’s bench, in order that we in like manner may lead on earth a peaceful and holy life, a prelude to the life of eternal happiness that awaits us in Heaven forever and ever. Amen.

Prayer for Our Daily Work

Dear St. Joseph, you who used your skills as a carpenter to provide for your family, watch over and protect us. Inspire us to embrace the God-given gift of the co-creative power of work. Your humble example, barely recorded in the Gospels, is enough to help us understand the dignity of human work and workers. Be our companion in good times and bad. Help us to face the daily challenges, and the extraordinary ones too, even as we pause to spot glimpses of joy in our shared life. We pray that policy makers and employers will recognize and respect the rights of workers. Knowing that you passed along your knowledge to Jesus, we ask you to guide us in our daily work.


[1] “Covid-19 Hospital Retrofit.” Holy Name Medical Center, http://www.holyname.org/help/covid19-construction.aspx.

[2] P.R. McCaffrey, From Dusk to Dawn: A History of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Newark, New Jersey. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1932), 51.

[3] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 4.

[4] Pope Pius X, “Prayer to St. Joseph the Worker,” May 1, 1955, quoted in Philip Kosloski, “Begin your workday with this prayer to St. Joseph,” Church, Aleteia, May 1, 2018, http://aleteia.org/2018/05/01/begin-your-workday-with-this-powerful-prayer-to-st-joseph-the-worker/.

[5] A. Cleveland Coxe, Alexander Roberts, and James Donaldson, eds., “The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers. New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. http://gnosis.org/library/infarab.htm.

[6] Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, 22.

[7] Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, 22.

[8] Pope Pius XII, “Prayer to St. Joseph, Model of Workers,” quoted in “Let’s Get to Work!” The Divine Mercy,May 1, 2019, http://www.thedivinemercy.org/​articles/lets-get-work

Living Joseph every day

The Year of St Joseph ends today.

It was unexpected when Pope Francis declared a year dedicated to Joseph last year. I had already spent significant time with my friend Joe, having just finished the manuscript of my book (My Friend Joe: Reflections on St. Joseph – available as a paperback or ebook) the month before.

Joseph is always there for us, with us. He doesn’t need a special year or day. He can be our friend every day.

He can also be a model for us as we navigate this thing called life.

In my religious Congregation we consider him to be a model of peace in times of struggle and uncertainty.

Check. That would be many times, but certainly now.

He can inspire us to dream. To take risks for those we love. To act justly. To serve God. To work creatively. To love always.

Today and everyday.

Introducing … My Friend Joe

Just in time for the end of the Year of St. Joseph, I am excited to share the news that my little book of reflections on St. Joseph has been published by Kenmare Press: My Friend Joe: Reflections on St. Joseph. It is available for purchase as a paperback ($8) or ebook ($1) from the Kenmare Press Online Bookstore.


St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus, is central to the Christian story. Yet, so little is known about St. Joseph, either as an historical figure or as recorded in scripture.  Much of what we understand about Joseph comes to us from tradition, art, and the lived experience of the faithful over the centuries.   Sister of St. Joseph of Peace Susan Rose Francois reflects on her growing spiritual friendship with St. Joseph, who she affectionately calls her friend Joe. Inspired by photographs of Joseph taken by the author, she reflects on her personal encounters with Joseph in conversation with church tradition around this saint.  Through art, prose, history, and prayer she encourages the reader to discover, or deepen, their own spiritual friendship with St. Joseph.

Read more about the book and view the pictures that inspired it here.