As a saint, St. Joseph doesn’t always receive a lot of publicity. This time of year, you hear about him and see him a lot, particularly in Nativity scenes. There he is, with Mary and baby Jesus, usually with some oxen, lambs and camels, and of course a shepherd or two.
The name “St. Joseph” has always been a prominent one in Hammonton. A Catholic church on Third Street, a former elementary school and former convent on the same street and a former Catholic high school at the corner of Central Avenue and Vine Street that is now home to St. Joseph Academy all have or had the name “St. Joseph.” All are part of the town’s history.
There have been ups and downs in the long history of Catholicism in Hammonton. That is also true of Catholicism everywhere. Still, especially at Christmastime, particularly during difficult times, people turn to their faith—whatever that faith may be—to help them and to comfort them.
Some people (I’m one of them) believe that we are given direction at times if we know where to look and are willing to listen.
Last week, the Catholic Star Herald, which is published by the Diocese of Camden and bills itself as “South Jersey’s Official Catholic Newspaper” came in the mail at our house. The lead article was at the top of the page, under the headline “Pope proclaims year dedicated to Saint Joseph.” The dateline was Vatican City.
The article, from the Catholic News Service, said: “Marking the 150th anniversary of Saint Joseph being declared patron of the universal church, Pope Francis proclaimed a yearlong celebration dedicated to the foster father of Jesus. In a Dec. 8 apostolic letter, ‘Patris Corde’ (‘With a father’s heart’), the pope said Christians can discover in St. Joseph, who often goes unnoticed, ‘an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.’”
Sounds like St. Joseph is the saint for Hammonton, New Jersey, the United States of America, the world and the times of trouble we live in now.
This yearlong celebration provides a perfect opportunity for St. Joseph Church, the Little Cubs Preschool at the former St. Joseph Elementary School and St. Joseph Academy to work, together and separately, on following the example set by their namesake of St. Joseph and the global, yearlong celebration of the saint whose name is known so well locally.
Hammonton has so many instances of St. Joseph’s name, both on the front lawns and interiors of homes with Nativity scenes, the lettering on the front of St. Joseph Church and the former St. Joseph Elementary School, and the banners and the signage around St. Joseph Academy. If everyone associated with those buildings and the work that goes on inside them each day can keep St. Joseph in mind during this celebratory year, there is no doubt good things will happen.
On a broader level, when you think of any standard Nativity scene, there is the figure of St. Joseph, representing the father, the figure of Mary, representing the mother and the figure of the baby Jesus. At Christmastime, we hear the story of how they came to Bethlehem and how the baby was born. Catholics, like all Christians, believe that Jesus is the son of God, which is why St. Joseph is often referred to as the “foster father” of Jesus.
In this coming year of celebration of St. Joseph, let’s think of all the fathers in our lives, of every kind, whose wisdom helps to guide us. At Christmastime, let’s remember what the Bible tells us:
“When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.
“So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.”
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.