The World Needs Fathers. 7 Questions on St. Joseph

With a father’s heart: that is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels refer to as “the son of Joseph.”

—Pope Francis, Patris Corde (2020)

Are you wondering who St. Joseph is and why he is important for the Church? Are you eager to learn more from him? In this article, I will answer seven most commonly asked questions on this great yet often-forgotten saint.

The World Needs Fathers. 7 Questions on St. Joseph

1. Who is Joseph?

Joseph is the husband of Mary and the legal father of Jesus. Joseph is a member of the tribe of Judah. This means that he belongs to the royal line of David (Mt 1:2–16; Lk 2:4). In Hebrew, ‘Joseph’ means “may the Lord add.” He is a “carpenter” by profession (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3). In addition, he is known as a just or righteous man (Mt 1:19).

2. Where is Joseph from?

His hometown is Bethlehem, even though during a good part of his life he calls Nazareth home.

He traveled a lot, though. He was betrothed to Mary in Nazareth. He then departed for Bethlehem for the census (Lk 2:4–6). Inspired by an angel, he fled to Egypt together with Mary and Jesus (Mt 2:13). When the turmoil subsided, he returned to Nazareth. As a devout Jew, he went to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, after which he went back again to Nazareth (Mt 2:13). That’s practically the last thing we know of him. He is last mentioned in Luke 2:51.

joseph flight egypt mary jesus
Carpaccio, The Flight into Egypt (c. 1515)

3. When did Joseph die?

The Gospels say nothing about this. Nonetheless, most scholars think that Joseph died at some point before Jesus began his public ministry[1] or, at least, prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. This is an inference from the fact that Jesus entrusted his mother to John (Jn 19:27). If Joseph were still alive at that moment, Jesus would not need to entrust his mother to somebody outside his family.

Hence, tradition has it that Joseph died a “happy death” in the presence of Jesus and Mary. That is why the Church titles him the “Patron of a Happy Death.”

joseph death mary jesus
Stella, The Death of St. Joseph (c. 1655)

4. What is Joseph’s place in the Church?

Joseph is a patron saint of many things. Apart from being the “Patron of a Happy Death,” he is, most importantly, the “Patron of the Universal Church.” He is also the “Patron of Workers” and Pope St. John Paul II calls him the “Guardian of the Redeemer.”

Joseph is Jesus’ foster father, but he is also the father of all Christians. The phrase “Go to Joseph” (Gen 41:55), which refers in reality to Joseph the son of Jacob, has popularly been applied to Joseph the husband of Mary. This application reveals how Christians over the centuries have put their trust in Joseph.

Countless churches have been dedicated to him and cities named after him. Innumerable saints are devoted to him. In addition, “[e]very prayer book contains prayers to Saint Joseph. Special prayers are offered to him each Wednesday and especially during the month of March, which is traditionally dedicated to him.”[2]

saint joseph church cathedral hanoi
Cathedral of St. Joseph, Hanoi

Moreover, Joseph occupies an important place in the Popes’ teaching. Pope Francis remarks that “[a]fter Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse.”[3]

5. What can I learn from Joseph?

A lot of things! Most importantly, we can learn from Joseph how toobey God’s will. One of the characteristics of genuine obedience is promptness. A person is considered obedient when she readily carries out what she is being asked to do.

You might ask: but, what is God’s will for me? Well, God can communicate his will to you and me through diverse circumstances of our life. In Joseph’s case, God often speaks to him in dreams. This is why Christian art often depicts him sleeping. Yes: the sleeping Joseph.

Joseph is a person who promptly responds to God’s will. He never says: “I’ll do it later.” As soon as he knows what God wants him to do, he does it. After the first dream, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took [Mary] as his wife” (Mt 1:24). Following the second one, he “took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt” (Mt 2:14–15). Subsequent to the third dream, he “took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel” (Mt 2:21). Lastly, after the fourth one, “he went away to the district of Galilee” (Mt 2:22–23).

joseph dream visited angel
Seghers, Dream of St. Joseph (c. 1625)

6. Why do we know so little about Joseph from the Gospels?

Joseph is a silent figure. It has been rightly noted that “he thinks and acts but never speaks.”[4]

Yet, even though references to Joseph in the New Testament are scarce, they are enough:

Matthew and Luke, the two Evangelists who speak most of Joseph, tell us very little, yet enough for us to appreciate what sort of father he was, and the mission entrusted to him by God’s providence.[5]

In Joseph’s silence lies his splendor. Pope Francis describes him as a ”father in the shadows.” A father is most a father when

he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care.[6]

Simply put, Joseph likes to go unnoticed. He does not seek honor and popularity. For this reason,

[e]ach of us can discover in Joseph—the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence—an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.[7]
joseph flight egypt angel mary jesus
Rubens, The Flight into Egypt (1614)

7. How can I pray to St. Joseph?

There are many prayers to St. Joseph. You can find some at the Year of St. Joseph Website or at the National Catholic Register. Here I provide you with three that are not on the webpages I just linked.

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, / Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. / To you God entrusted his only Son; / in you Mary placed her trust; / with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too, / show yourself a father / and guide us in the path of life. / Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage, / and defend us from every evil. Amen.[8]

Saint Joseph, Man of Silence

Saint Joseph, man of silence, you who in the Gospel did not utter a single word, teach us to fast from vain words, to rediscover the value of words that edify, encourage, console and support.

Be close to those who suffer from words that hurt, like slander and backbiting, and help us always to match words with deeds. Amen.[9]

To Thee, Joseph (Te Ioseph)

Joseph! to thee by hosts on high / and choirs of Christians, laud be paid! / saintly of life, by purest tie / joined unto her, the glorious Maid.

When thou didst doubt thy wife's repute, / and mark her great with motherhood, / the angel taught thee that her fruit / came from the Holy Ghost of God.

To clasp the Son, the Lord, was thine, / to share His flight to Egypt's shore, / with tears, to seek in Salem's shrine / Him lost, with joy, to find once more.

Death brings to other Saints their rest; / through toil they win the victor's place; / thou happier, like the Angels blest, / alive, hast seen God face to face.

Spare us, O Trinity most High! / grant that, with Joseph, we may gain / Thy starry realm, and ceaselessly / there raise to Thee our thankful strain. / Amen.

  1. Scott Hahn, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 473.

  2. Pope Francis, Patris Corde (2020).

  3. Pope Francis, Patris Corde (2020).

  4. Hahn, ed., Catholic Bible Dictionary, 473.

  5. Pope Francis, Patris Corde (2020).

  6. Pope Francis, Patris Corde (2020).

  7. Pope Francis, Patris Corde (2020).

  8. Pope Francis, Patris Corde (2020).

  9. Pope Francis, General Audience (15 December 2021).