The devotion to St. Joseph in the Church developed gradually. The Church honours St. Joseph based on two reasons: chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus and the spouse of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. Declaring the YEAR OF JOSEPH, Pope Francis invites everyone to meditate upon the life of Joseph and imitate him in our lives. Looking into the life of Vincent de Paul, we find, among all the saints other than Blessed Mother, Vincent had a great devotion to St. Joseph. On many occasions in his conferences he mentions the name and qualities of St. Joseph. This article is an attempt to understand the growth of the devotion to St. Joseph till the time of Vincent’s era and the devotion Vincent de Paul developed to St. Joseph, analyzing the various conferences and writings of Vincent de Paul.
1. The Origin and Development of the Devotion to St. Joseph
The devotion to St. Joseph developed slowly in the Church. The history shows that only the martyrs enjoyed special devotion in the beginning of the Church. However, the devotion to St. Joseph began in the East as early as the fourth century. But in the West the name of St. Joseph as the foster-father of Jesus appeared in the ninth and tenth centuries only. A church was dedicated to honour St. Joseph at Bologna in 1129. Great persons like Sts. Bernard, Thomas Aquinas. Gertrude and Bridget of Sweden played significant roles in developing the devotion to St. Joseph. According to Pope Benedict XIV “the general opinion of the learned is that the Fathers of Carmel were the first to import from the East into the West the laudable practice of giving the fullest cults to St. Joseph”. At the time of Pope Sixtus IV (1471 – 1484) a feast (March 19) was introduced in the Roman Calendar to honour St. Joseph. From that time onwards the devotion acquired greater popularity. At the time of Vincent de Paul, in 1621, Pope Gregory XV declared the feast of St. Joseph as a Festival of Obligation.
2. Vincent De Paul’s Devotion to Saints
Vincent de Paul’s devotion to Blessed Virgin Mary is well known. It is said that “when he was still very young, his mother had taught him to speak to her heart to heart and pray to her on all occasions”. Vincent de Paul continued his devotion to Blessed Virgin Mary till his last breath. Through his preaching, teaching and writings, he instructed everyone to honour Mary and to learn many lessons from her life. Vincent de Paul also had great devotion to his guardian angel and other saints. He instructed his priests to respect the saints’ names (CCD XI, 113), relics (CCD XI, 40) and imitate them as they have made good use of temptations to be successful. (CCD X, 10). Vincent de Paul says, “The saints were tried in various ways, and it was by their patience in difficulties and their perseverance in holy undertakings that they were victorious” (CCD V, 613).
3. Vincent De Paul’s Devotion to St. Joseph
It is difficult to find a systematic study on St. Joseph in the writings and conferences of Vincent de Paul. The available materials are scanty and scattered. The main sources are his conferences to the priest of the Congregation and members of the Daughters of the Charity and his letters to different persons. On various occasions, Vincent de Paul brought out the example of St. Joseph in his conversations.
3.1 Seek the Intercession of St. Joseph for Good Vocation
The Congregation of the Mission had a humble beginning on 17 April 1625 with the contract signed by Philip Emmanuel de Gondi, Marguerite de Silly and Vincent de Paul. According to this contract, the members were to go from village to village in order to preach and catechize those poor people, and get everyone ready to make a good general confession of their past life without taking any payment under any form. The Congregation had a steady growth in and out of France. The communities outside France, especially in Italy could not fulfill the demands of the ecclesiastical authorities due to lack of members. In writing to Fr. Charles Ozenne, the Superior in Warsaw (20 March 1654), Vincent mentions about the plan of opening an Internal Seminary again in Genoa as all the confreres are getting better after sickness. He also mentions about their practice of asking God through the merits and prayers of St. Joseph to send good workers to the Company to work in His vineyard. Vincent stresses the point that all need to do the same to get good vocation to the Congregation (CCD V, 109) and to persevere in the vocation. On 29 May 1654, in writing to Fr. Jean Barreau who was in Algiers, regarding the devotion to St. Joseph, Vincent says, “We are preparing a fair number who are still in the seminary pursuing their studies, but they are not sufficiently formed, and not all of them persevere. We have good reason, therefore, to ask God to send good workers into His vineyard,’ and we have a short, special devotion for this purpose, in imitation of the Genoa house, which has begun this” (CCD V, 149). A few months before his death, Vincent expresses his happiness for continuing the practice of making special prayers to St. Joseph in the community at Genoa to obtain good missionaries from God (CCD VII, 581).
This practice is continued to this day as we seek the intercession of St. Joseph after the “Prayer for the Vocation” in every community. St. Joseph also continues to be the special patron of all the Internal Seminaries in the Congregation.
3.2 Devotion to St. Joseph Helps for the Growth of the Congregation
The activities of the members of the Congregation of the Mission were respected, accepted and appreciated by every ecclesiastical authorities in France and slowly outside the country too. Therefore, several Cardinals and Bishops from Italy and other place were pressurizing Vincent to send Missionaries to their places. Vincent strongly believed that “since the Congregation is His work, its preservation and growth should be left to His Providence alone” (CCD V, 468). But reflecting on the recommendation given to us in the Gospel to ask Him to send laborers into His harvest, Vincent says that he has been convinced of the importance and usefulness of having devotion to St. Joseph for the spread of the Company. Hence, in a letter written on 12 November 1655, he encouraged the initial step taken by the Superior in Genoa to seek the blessings of God, through the intercession of St. Joseph, for this purpose (CCD V, 468).
St. Joseph had an active participation in the growth of Jesus. As it is said, most of the human qualities seen in Jesus were learned from St. Joseph. Therefore, the intercession of St. Joseph always helps in the qualitative and quantitative growth of the Congregation.
3.3 St. Joseph, Model of Hard Work
There are many titles for St. Joseph in the Church. One of the best known among them is foster father of Jesus. As the father of Jesus, Joseph had to work hard to care Jesus and his Mother Mary. He brought up the child Jesus, and trained him in the art of carpentry. Jesus learned the trade from St. Joseph and worked with him before pursuing his ministry as preacher and healer (CCD IX, 137, 343). Vincent had high regard for St. Joseph as he worked hard to meet the expenses of daily life. The new life situations in Bethlehem as well as in Egypt forced St. Joseph to take up hard work as he had to begin everything new in both places. He came to Bethlehem having nothing substantially but had to live there as Mary gave birth to Jesus in an insecure situation. Again he had to leave everything, abandoning any livelihood he might have developed in Bethlehem to travel lightly to Egypt. In one of his conference regarding “Love of Work” to the Daughter of Charity on 28 November 1649, Vincent greatly appreciated the sisters who brought the example of St. Joseph to show the need of hard work in the Company (CCD IX, 380 – 381). Vincent always wanted his followers to work hard like Joseph and never to spend time in idleness. In one of his conferences to his priests, quoting M. Duval, a great theologian of the Church, Vincent says, “a priest must have more work than he can do; for as soon as idleness and sloth get hold of a priest, every vice rushes in from all sides” (CCD XI, 191). Like St. Joseph who worked silently, Vincent insists, we should say little and do much (CCD VI, 52).
Pope Francis says, “St. Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.” To honour St. Joseph as a worker and to respect the dignity of the working class, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955. Let us try to understand the mind of our Founder and always spend time in working for the good of others like St. Joseph.
3.4 St. Joseph: Embodiment of Faithfulness and Submission to the Plan of God
The faithfulness of St. Joseph to the works entrusted by God is well known. He can be called as the embodiment of faithfulness and submission to God’s will in all circumstances of life. Never he had a question, but faithfully carried out that was asked of him. Though he received all the directions from God in a dream, he never doubted or hesitated to submit to the will of God. Vincent was taken up by the faithfulness of St. Joseph and wanted his followers to practice in their life. Therefore, while explaining on the Holy Rules to sisters on the theme “Fidelity to the Rules” on 21 June, 1658, Vincent made a special prayer so that the Sisters may be faithful to the Holy Rules as St. Joseph practiced this virtue in his life (CCD X,439). While speaking to the fathers of the Mission on “Mortification” on 2 May 1659, Vincent emphasized on how St. Joseph, though he was the foster father of Jesus, submitted his will before his Divine Master. “… those holy parents always submitted their understanding and desires to that Divine Child… (CCD XII, 177).
God has a plan for the good of each one of us. Like St. Joseph, let us try to understand the plan of God and submit to His will. Faithfulness and submission to the will and plan of God always bring success to our works and satisfaction to our minds.
3.5 Practice Obedience as Jesus Obeyed St. Joseph
On different occasions dealing with the subject on obedience, Vincent brought out the example of Jesus, who obeyed his earthly father, St. Joseph. When one practices obedience to the superior, God will be pleased and there will be improvement in all the ministries (CCD IX, 7; X, 228). One can be true to the charism of the Congregation only when obedience is practiced as Jesus to Mary and St. Joseph (IX, 14; X, 72). Vincent says, “Although the Son of God was more learned in everything than Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, and all honor was due to Him, He was still subject to them and didn’t fail to do the lowliest tasks in the home, and it’s said of Him that He grew in wisdom and age. May this example be a powerful motive, Sisters, to make you gentle, humble, and submissive, and not to murmur when a Sister reminds you of some fault” (CCD IX, 181).
Jesus obeyed St. Joseph not because he was His earthly father, but the life and activities of St. Joseph demanded obedience from Jesus. Obedience is not something to be forcefully required from others, rather if we live a life like that of St. Joseph, irrespective of age, educational qualification, finance etc. everyone will obey us. Let the life of St. Joseph be a model and inspiration for every one of us.
St. Joseph had a great influence in the life of Vincent de Paul especially in becoming ‘the father of the poor’. As Pope Francis writes, “Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person.” Caring and nurturing countless children in this world, Vincent proved himself to be a real father. In the world we find the “Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers. The Church too needs fathers.” Hence, let us learn from the life of St. Joseph and imitate our founder to be a ‘real father’ in the present day. As we go through the conferences and other writings of Vincent de Paul, it is surprising to see that Vincent has never mentioned the name of St. Joseph without Blessed Virgin Mary and always Mary is given the first preference. Thus he teaches us through the life of St. Joseph that we have relevance in the history of salvation only when we are united and give preference and respect for others.
Fr. PUDUSSERY Shajan CM
Editor’s Note: For a presentation of quotes from St. Vincent’s writings that mention St. Joseph, see this previous post.
 Edward Healy Thompson, Antonio Vitali, The Life and Glories of St. Joseph Husband of Mary, Foster-father of Jesus, and Patron of the Universal Church (London: Burns & Oates, 1980) 461.
 Gaston Courtois, The Life of St. Vincent de Paul (Baripada: Jyoti Printing School) # 7.
 I. Giordani, St. Vincent de Paul: Servant of the Poor (trans. T.J Tobin) (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1961)246.
 CCD = Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents (trans. Pierre Coste), 2008. https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks
 Pope Francis, Patris Corde, # 7.
 Pope Francis, Patris Corde, # 6.
 Pope Francis, Patris Corde, # 7.
 Pope Francis, Patris Corde, # 7.