Saint Joseph, Patron of the Unborn

In the spirit of this Year of Saint Joseph proclaimed by our Holy Father Pope Francis, it is fitting to look at an interesting article published by the Oblates of Saint Joseph which sheds some light on a little known and unexplored aspect of Saint Joseph’s patronage. The article, titled “Patron of the Unborn,” describes a statue of Saint Joseph erected in Santa Cruz, California, by the Oblates of Saint Joseph in 2001.[1] The bronze statue, standing seven feet tall and “seated on a curved bench holding a six month old fetus in his hands,” is intended to be a site of reconciliation and healing for mothers and fathers who have had an abortion.[2] In the shrine there is a seat next to the statue, so that the parent burdened by the guilt and sorrow of the abortion may look into the loving, fatherly gaze of Saint Joseph, and become able to work through the guilt and grief of the abortion and move along through the process of healing.[3] Surrounding the statue of Saint Joseph and the bench next to the statue are “two semi-circular barriers” intended not only for privacy but also as a place where parents can engrave the name of their aborted child on a plaque after choosing a name for him or her, which assures the parent that the child has “been entrusted to the Lord through the hands of St. Joseph.”[4]

What is interesting about this shrine is that Saint Joseph is seen as Patron of the Unborn in this whole process of reconciliation and healing.[5] As the parent chooses a name for the aborted child, Saint Joseph is seen as “a most fitting model and patron for this important, but difficult step.”[6] The article continues, that “[Saint Joseph] may be prayerfully invoked for assistance in choosing and giving the name [for the aborted child],” since the Great Patriarch “was the one chosen by God to name His own Son, and since [Saint Joseph] was told the specific name to give while the child was still in the womb.”[7] As the grieving parent looks into the face of the loving father of Christ, holding an infant child in his arms, he or she is reminded that his or her aborted child is now in the arms of the Heavenly Father, and in the arms of Saint Joseph, protected from all harm and safe for eternity.[8] In this fatherly representation of Saint Joseph, the article connects Saint Joseph’s paternity with his patronage of the Unborn; “Joseph was the one chosen for the role of father to the Son of God incarnate in Mary’s womb…[w]ithin his universal patronage, it is certainly fitting in our times that he be given a new title as ‘Patron of the Unborn.’ No one can be a better defender of innocent, helpless life in the womb.”[9]

This idea might seem a bit novel to Catholics; Saint Joseph as Patron of the Unborn. For surely when a Catholic usually thinks of the title “Patron of the Unborn,” he usually associates this title with Mary, calling to mind the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe signifying her patronage of those innocent lives in the womb of every mother. Moreover, Catholics usually associate Saint Joseph’s patronage as extending to fathers and to families, and not to the unborn. How is it then that the man who never co-operated physically in generating a child can be the patron of the offspring of such a generation?[10] When Catholics truly understand Saint Joseph through great thinkers such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and through the mind of the Church, we will realize that Saint Joseph is not only the Patron Saint of fathers and of families, but so too of every child in the womb.

To understand how Saint Joseph is the Patron of the Unborn, it is necessary to understand what a patron saint does. Catholics know that when one prays to a patron saint, he is seeking the protection or guidance of that particular saint. This understanding of a patron saint is tied in with the etymology behind the word “patron.” The word “patron” reveals that this word comes from the Latin word “patronus” which means “protector of clients, defender.” Thus, “patron” carries with it the notion of a “protector” or “defender.” Further, “patronus” is derived from the Latin word “pater,” which means “father.” Thus, the concept of a patron being a protector or a defender is taken from the concept of fatherhood, from the function of the father, i.e., one who protects or defends those who are in his care by virtue of their membership in his family. Thus, it stands to reason that if Saint Joseph is somehow the father of the Unborn, then he must be the Patron of the Unborn as well.

But how could Saint Joseph be both father and Patron of the Unborn? Ultimately, Saint Joseph’s patronage of the Unborn must be derived from his real and true fatherhood of Christ. Saint Thomas Aquinas notes in his Commentary on the Sentences that there are two ways that a child is considered as “the good of marriage.”[11] The first is that the child be “generated through marriage.”[12] The second is that the child be “accepted and educated in marriage.”[13] Aquinas writes that Christ was the good of marriage in the second way “but not in the first way.”[14] Further, Aquinas maintains that this way of calling Christ the good of this marriage between Mary and Joseph is superior to that of a child “born of adultery” or “an adopted son who is educated in marriage” because “marriage is not ordained to the education of [a child born of adultery or an adopted son], as [Mary’s and Joseph’s] marriage was specially ordained to [Jesus’] being received into it and educated.”[15] Therefore, Christ was truly the good of Joseph’s marriage because Saint Joseph really did accept the child Jesus as his own and truly did raise and educate the Son of God; further, because Joseph’s marriage was ordered to Jesus’ rearing and education, all this means that Saint Joseph truly was the father of Christ. This relationship between Jesus and Saint Joseph is what Aquinas establishes as the “miraculous ‘moral bond’ between the hearts of Jesus and St. Joseph,” since it was Saint Joseph who raised and educated the Son of God, causing a love to exist between the hearts of Jesus and Saint Joseph that was the same as that which exists between any true father and son.[16]

Thus, from the Thomistic perspective, one can say that Saint Joseph really made Jesus the man He is today; that Christ really did “[increase] in wisdom and in stature”[17] because of the real fatherhood that Saint Joseph exercised in relation to Jesus. Saint Thomas himself is explicit about the real fatherhood of Saint Joseph, calling Saint Joseph not the adopted father, nor the foster father, and neither the legal father of Christ, — but simply the father of Christ. Aquinas, quoting Saint Augustine, writes, “Joseph is called the father of Christ just as he is called the husband of Mary, without fleshly mingling, by the mere bond of marriage: being thereby united to Him much more closely than if he were adopted from another family. Consequently that Christ was not begotten of Joseph by fleshly union is no reason why Joseph should not be called His father; since he would be the father even of an adopted son not born of his wife.[18]

If the words of Thomas, the greatest theologian in the history of the Church, are not enough, then one should note with Dr. Scott Hahn that even the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven, was also keenly aware of the true paternity of Saint Joseph when she told the boy Jesus after finding him in the temple that “your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”[19] Like Saint Thomas, no adjective was added to qualify or limit Saint Joseph’s fatherhood of Christ; Mary simply knew and spoke of Saint Joseph as the father of Christ. Our Lady, being perfect in virtue and grace in her life, would never lie — especially to her Son; so why would it be false for Mary to call Joseph the father of Jesus?

Moreover, the Church recognizes Saint Joseph’s authentic fatherhood of Christ. As Pope Leo XIII writes in his famous encyclical on Saint Joseph Quamquam Pluries, Saint Joseph “is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ.”[20] Like Saint Thomas Aquinas in his writings and like Mary in the Gospel of Luke, Pope Leo XIII also does not use an adjective to qualify or restrict the fatherhood of Saint Joseph to something that is anything less than real fatherhood; he simply writes that Saint Joseph is the “Father of Jesus Christ.” Thus, if not only Saint Thomas Aquinas and Mary recognize the true fatherhood of Saint Joseph, but even the Holy Spirit Himself through the Church in the Vicar of Christ has affirmed in a papal encyclical the veracity of the fatherhood of Saint Joseph, what more affirmation do we as Catholics need concerning the nature of Saint Joseph’s paternity?

Now, how does the fatherhood of Saint Joseph relate to his patronage of the Unborn? As was explained, Saint Joseph’s real fatherhood comes by virtue of his real fatherhood of Christ. Saint John Paul the Great tells us in Redemptoris Custos that the Church Fathers maintained that since we are all members of Christ’s Mystical Body, then Saint Joseph is also a “patronus,” i.e., a patron, a protector, a defender, or a father of the whole of Christ’s Mystical Body, of the whole of the family of Christ, i.e., the Church, as Joseph was the patron or protector and father of Christ in his earthly life.[21] Pope Leo XIII also maintains the same point.[22] He says that “the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church…Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are his brothers.”[23] This means that since we are all a part of Christ’s family as His brothers and sisters, we are also a part of his Mystical Body. Thus, if Saint Joseph was the true father of Christ and if the Great Patriarch watched over and protected Christ “with the authority of a father,” if the “the scarce-born Church” too is contained in the Mystical Body of Christ, then Saint Joseph is also our father and he watches over us “with the authority of a father.” This is the basis for saying that Saint Joseph is the Patron of the Universal Church; for just as Saint Joseph was father and protector of Christ, so also is Saint Joseph father, protector and “Patronus” or Patron of all Christians.[24]

Moreover, since all unborn children are included in this Mystical Body of Christ, this means that Saint Joseph is the Patron of Unborn Children also because he is the father of unborn children, as Joseph was the true father of the unborn Christ child. It is for this cause that the Oblates of Saint Joseph say that “within [Saint Joseph’s] universal patronage, it is certainly fitting in our times that he be given a new title as ‘Patron of the Unborn.’”[25] This is also the understanding of Saint Thomas Aquinas when he is quoted to have said that “our holy patron St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”[26] According to these words of the Angelic Doctor, if Joseph in his universal patronage is able to help all Christians in anything, then our father Joseph is also able to protect the children who have yet to leave the wombs of their mothers.

Therefore, Catholics should look upon and invoke Saint Joseph as the Patron of Unborn Children, as Our Lady looked upon Saint Joseph as the father and hence the patron or “protector” of their unborn child, Jesus Christ; since it was Joseph, the father of the Savior, who saved the Christ child from death during the Massacre of the Innocents.[27] Thus, if Saint Joseph, “the Savior of the Savior,”[28] saved the Unborn Lord of all from the wrath of Herod and from the slaughter of the innocent children, so too can the Glorious Patron of the Catholic Church save the defenseless, unborn members of Christ’s Mystical Body from the wrath of Satan and from his slaughter of the innocent, unborn children in the thousands upon thousands of abortions that are performed every day on the face of this earth. Hence, all Catholics should indeed invoke Saint Joseph as Patron of the Unborn, so that Satan and the scourge of abortion will be put to a stop when the “shadow of the heavenly Father”[29] is invoked by all Catholics as Patron of the Unborn.

Indeed, Sister Lucia of Fatima said that “a time will come when the decisive battle between the Kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.”[30] It is of particular significance then that Joseph’s role in the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima in what is known as “the Apparition of the Holy Family,”[31] — Joseph’s appearance, which is hardly known and rarely discussed in Catholic circles[32] — should serve as a reminder to Catholics of the importance of Saint Joseph’s role in protecting families and the Unborn; “[a]fter Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus…Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands.”[33]

Given that President Joe Biden has recently lifted Donald Trump’s “ban on US government funding for foreign nonprofits that perform or promote abortions,” known as the “Mexico City Policy,”[34] in this Year of Saint Joseph proclaimed by Pope Francis it is absolutely paramount that all Catholics heed the admonition to Ite ad Joseph or Go to Joseph — Joseph, who “is the Patron of the Triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart”[35] — so that Joseph will not weep so bitterly anymore at the murder of his innocent children, as he did on the night of the massacre of his innocent children.[36] For a patron — a father — protects his children; and Joseph will protect all of us, his children — including his unborn children — if we will go to him.

Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.” Genesis 41:5

[1] “Patron of the Unborn,” Oblates of St. Joseph Holy Spouses Province, 2020, https://osjusa.org/about-us/apostolates/patron-of-the-unborn/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Matthew 1:18; see also Saint Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, trans. Beth Mortensen, STD, ed. and annot. Michael Bolin, PHD, Jeremy Holmes, PHD, and Peter Kwasniewski, PHD (Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine), IV, d. 30, q. 2, a. 3, ad 4, https://aquinas.cc/la/en/~Sent.I: “Joseph, qui etiam virgo fuit.”

[11] Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, IV, d. 30, q. 2, a. 2, ad 4.

[12] Ibid: “[P]roles non dicitur bonum matrimonii solum inquantum per matrimonium generatur.”

[13] Ibid: “[S]ed inquantum in matrimonio suscipitur et educatur.”

[14] Ibid: “[E]t sic bonum illius matrimonii fuit proles illa et non primo modo.”

[15] Ibid: “Nec tamen de adulterio natus, nec filius adoptivus qui in matrimonio educatur, est bonum matrimonii: quia matrimonium non ordinatur ad educationem illorum, sicut hoc matrimonium fuit ad hoc ordinatum specialiter quod proles illa susciperetur in eo, et educaretur.”

[16] Mark I. Miravalle, STD, Meet Your Spiritual Father: A Brief Introduction to St. Joseph (Lighthouse Catholic Media and Marian Press, 2015), 57. For the original text where Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks about this moral bond between Joseph and Jesus, see Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, IV, d. 30, q. 2, a. 2, ad 4.

[17] Luke 2:52: “Et Jesus proficiebat sapientia, et aetate.”

[18] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fr. Laurence Shapcote, O.P., ed. John Mortensen and Enrique Alarcon (Lander: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2012), III, q. 28, a. 1, ad 1, https://aquinas.cc/la/en/~ST.I, emphasis added: “Vel, sicut Augustinus dicit, in libro de bono coniugali, eo modo pater Christi dicitur Ioseph quo et vir Mariae intelligitur, sine commixtione carnis, ipsa copulatione coniugii, multo videlicet coniunctius quam si esset aliunde adoptatus. Neque enim propterea non erat appellandus Ioseph pater Christi quia non eum concumbendo genuerat, quandoquidem pater esset etiam ei quem, non ex sua coniuge procreatum, aliunde adoptasset.”

[19] Luke 2:48, emphasis added: “Et dixit mater ejus ad illum: Fili, quid fecisti nobis sic? Ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quaerebamus te.” See also Scott Hahn, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) (New York: Image, 2014), 70.

[20] Pope Leo XIII, Quamquam Pluries, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, August 15, 1889, 3, http://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15081889_quamquam-pluries.html, emphasis added: “[Q]uia vir Mariae et pater est Iesu Christi.”

[21] Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, August 15, 1989, 1, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_15081989_redemptoris-custos.html.

[22] Pope Leo XIII, Quamquam Pluries, 3.

[23] Ibid, emphasis added: “Atqui domus divina, quam Iosephus velut potestate patria gubernavit, initia exorientis Ecclesiae continebat…itemque Iesus Christus tamquam primogenitus est christianorum, qui ei sunt adoptione ac redemptione frateres.”

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Patron of the Unborn,” emphasis added.

[26] “Saint Quotes About St. Joseph,” Welcome to the Year of St. Joseph, Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, 2019-2021, https://yearofstjoseph.org/quotes/, emphasis added.

[27] Matthew 2:13-18.

[28] Donald H. Calloway, MIC, Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2020), 157-161.

[29] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, December 8, 2020, 7, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20201208_patris-corde.html: “[U]mbra Patris Caelestis.”

[30] Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins, “St. Joseph in the Church since 1917 – Msgr. Calkins, Fatima Centennial Conference – October 7, 2017,” YouTube, October 10, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rAJaFIly2I.

[31] “Our Lady of Revelation part 3: Miracle of the Sun,” YouTube, August 15, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vQr28sPVCY; see also Calkins, “St. Joseph in the Church since 1917.”

[32] Ibid; see also Msgr. Joseph A Cirrincione with Thomas A. Nelson, St. Joseph, Fatima and Fatherhood: Reflections on the “Miracle of the Sun” (Charlotte: TAN, 1989), 1; see also Miravalle, Meet Your Spiritual Father, 88-89; see also Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph, 199.

[33] Calkins, “St. Joseph in the Church since 1917.” See also Cirrincione Nelson, St. Joseph, Fatima and Fatherhood, 3; see also “St. Joseph: Patron of the Triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart,” YouTube, September 20, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu-DVXd7PtU.

[34] Caroline Kelly and Nicole Gaouette, “Biden Signs memorandum reversing Trump abortion access restrictions,” CNN Politics, Cable News Network, January 28, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/28/politics/biden-abortion-executive-orders/index.html.

[35] “St. Joseph: Patron of the Triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart.” See also Dr. Mark Miravalle, “Mark Miravalle: St. Joseph,” YouTube, December 28, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NriZbBpOzM; see also Miravalle, Meet Your Spiritual Father, 88-89; see also Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph, 199.

[36] Calloway, Consecration to Saint Joseph, 165.