In the 1870s, French and Italian stonemasons built a church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They built it for the Sisters of Loreto, an order of nuns who had gone to Santa Fe to teach. The stonemasons built a beautiful church, in a Gothic Revival style that evoked the most beautiful cathedrals of Europe.
But the stonemasons forgot to build a staircase to the choir loft. The space for a staircase was narrow, and the sisters feared they might need to use a ladder to access their choir loft. This would be a difficulty for the older sisters in the community. So before they built a ladder, the sisters prayed a novena to St. Joseph.
On the final day of the novena, a poor man arrived at the convent. He told the sisters that he was a carpenter. He told them he would build a staircase. He had arrived with a donkey, and a small toolbox containing only the simplest tools.
The man worked in the chapel for months. He put a curtain in front of his workplace, and he wasn’t often watched. He hardly spoke to anyone. And then one day, without being paid, he simply left without saying a word.
The man left behind one of the most exquisite staircases the world has ever seen. He built a spiral staircase with 33 steps, one for each year of Christ’s life. He built it with two full turns in 22 feet, something engineers say is impossible. He built it with no central support beam, with no supporting mounts to the walls or the upper floor. He built it with no nails, using only dowels, and using beautiful wood that does not come from New Mexico.
The carpenter, without saying a word, built a beautiful staircase to glorify the house of God. The carpenter, the Sisters of Loreto believe, was St. Joseph. His staircase still stands today.
Next week, we’ll celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph. St. Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church, the foster-father of Jesus Christ. And he offers an important model for fathers today.
In the Gospel, St. Joseph is never recorded saying a word. Pope St. John Paul II says that, “an aura of silence envelops everything about St. Joseph.” But St. Joseph was not silent because he had nothing to say. Instead, he was silent because he had cultivated an interior silence that allowed him to hear the Lord.
The silence of St. Joseph is the sign of a life of deep contemplation. St. Joseph is silent because he was a man of prayer. Because he was a man of prayer, he could hear the Lord’s call in his life. He could hear the Lord call him to take Mary as his wife, even when she was mysteriously pregnant. He could hear the Lord tell him to take his family to Egypt, to be safe from King Herod. Because he was silent, St. Joseph knew his vocation. And because he was prayerful, he heard the Lord, and responded with action.
The Servant of God Father John Hardon, SJ, says that, “Joseph put his love to work. He did not merely tell Jesus and Mary that he loved them. He acted out his love. He lived it... That is the secret of true love. We are as truly devoted to Christ and His Mother as we do what we know they want us to do.”
St. Joseph did what the Lord and what the Blessed Mother wanted him to do. That made him a saint. And it made him an excellent father. In February, Pope Francis said that a father’s vocation is “to be present in the family. To be close to his wife, to share in everything, joy and pain, burdens and hopes. And to be close to the children as they grow: when they play and when they make efforts, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they dare and when they are afraid, when they make missteps and when they return to the right path. A father must always be present!”
St. Joseph is a clear model of a father who was present to his wife and child. Pope Francis says that a father must “pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity, and mercy.” St. Joseph prayed, and waited upon the Lord, and was graced with patience, gentleness, greatness of soul, and mercy.
Finally, Pope Francis has said that a father must be the servant to his family. St. Joseph served the Son of Man, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the dedication of his life. He reminded us of that in the miracle of stairs in Santa Fe, in which he quietly and humbly served the Church, the Body of Christ.
Fathers are called to imitate the love of St. Joseph. They’re called to imitate “putting love to work.” They’re called to be silent, as St. Joseph was, to hear the call of the Lord. Through St. Joseph, the Lord has built beautiful things—a beautiful staircase, a beautiful family, a beautiful Church. Through fathers who imitate St. Joseph, the Lord can build great things for the Church in the Diocese of Lincoln.