St. Joseph’s Altar: A Lesson of Faith

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NEW ORLEANS — One of the traditions that returns to New Orleans as the city opens up is the celebration of Saint Joseph. In the mid-1800s Sicilians came to New Orleans and brought the tradition of creating St. Joseph’s altars on the 19th of March.

Recently, Pope Francis proclaimed 2021 as the year of Saint Joseph. Many believed the bible’s Joseph was a symbol of faith, patience, and the belief in God’s will. He would be the paternal influence and protector to a carnal God. Faith, patience, and will are things that still resonate as New Orleans recovers with more people being vaccinated during the coronavirus’s effects.

Metairie Manor is a senior living community that was not able to celebrate St. Joseph last year because of a need for social distancing. This year, like many, they celebrate cautiously with a pared-down version of the altar. Cynthia Gianfala is a resident and also the one who was pushing to do the altar this year and says, “We lost a lot of people and I felt that we had to remember them and remember all the people throughout the world who have died due to the coronavirus. Some of my friends who wanted to do the altar last year are no longer with us. Their pictures are now part of the altar of this year.”

Saint Joseph is believed to have caused a miracle in Sicily during a famine. He brought rain that grew the fava beans and it fed the people. Now fava beans are a symbol of luck and one of the essential trinkets adorning every Saint Joseph’s altar.

Beauregard Keyes House is a historic home in the French Quarter that is across from the old Ursuline convent. Fran Conner is a historian and tour guide at the house and says, “This area of the French Quarter was very highly populated by Sicilian immigrants. This is a custom that was brought over from Sicily in thanks for the ending of drought and famine. In hardship, they gave to Saint Joseph what was precious, food.”

Pastor Allan Weinert is a priest at the historic and beautiful St. Mary’s Assumption Church in the Irish Channel of New Orleans and says that the lesson of Joseph is in quiet obedience, patience, and faith. He has seen numerous people exercising faith throughout the pandemic, especially health professionals.

“Joseph adjusted often in his life to changes. He adjusted to the circumstances of his life as they came to him. But he always saw grace in that opportunity,” says Pastor Allan Weinert.

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