By Marissa Romero
SAN DIEGO – On May 1, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
The foster father of Jesus and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary is already honored every March 19 on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. But, at a time when communism was flourishing and the dignity of human labor was diminishing, Pope Pius XII saw a need for an additional feast day focused on the saintly carpenter’s work ethic and his dedication to providing for the Holy Family. The feast of St. Joseph the Worker was established in 1955.
“May 1 is Labor Day for most Latin countries and the pope dedicated this holiday to St. Joseph as the Catholic patron of workers,” explained Father Peter Navarra, pastor of St. Joseph Cathedral in San Diego.
In this capacity, St. Joseph serves as “a model for the dignity of all workers,” he said, noting that many Catholic unions have adopted him as their namesake.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers around the globe have found themselves divided into categories of “essential” and “nonessential,” with many in the latter category facing salary cuts and layoffs. In a period of such uncertainty and anxiety, it might be comforting for many to know that they have a heavenly intercessor whose earthly life was not without its own work-related hardships. Matthew’s Gospel recounts how St. Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to keep the child safe, leaving behind his home and his livelihood and having to begin again in a new country.
Today, Mission San Diego de Alcalá stands as a testament to the hard work of another saint, St. Junipero Serra, who founded the first nine of the 21 California missions. But the Franciscan friar’s work likely would have failed had it not been for the powerful intercession of St. Joseph.
Several months after the founding of Mission San Diego on July 16, 1769, the San Diego settlement was running out of supplies, explained Janet Bartel, a docent at the Mission. The head of the military, Gaspar de Portolá, decided to abandon San Diego.
Determined to continue his work of evangelization, Father Serra responded by organizing a novena prayer to St. Joseph, their expedition’s patron saint, asking for the arrival of a ship with replenishment of provisions. The novena was scheduled to end on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, 1770, and Portolá agreed not to depart until the following day.
After nine days of intense prayer, on March 19, they saw a ship coming into sight, said Bartel. “As a result of the novena to St. Joseph, the entire settlement of San Diego and the subsequent success of founding of the rest of the California missions was saved.”
The preceding events may have transpired 250 years ago, but devotion to St. Joseph is not some outdated custom from a pious past. Like St. Junipero Serra, modern-day San Diegans too can turn to St. Joseph with their needs.
“I strongly believe that it is the right thing to do,” said Father Devdas Masillamony, pastor of Santa Sophia Parish in Spring Valley, “to pray to St. Joseph the Worker, especially during this time when there is so much fear, uncertainty, and millions of people are losing their jobs.”
“St. Joseph rightly understands people’s struggles and he cares for them as he cared for the Holy Family,” he said.