St. Joseph Table honors model caregiver

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The solemnity of St. Joseph often is overshadowed by the feast of the famous Emerald Isle bishop, which falls in the same week. But at St. Andrew the Apostle Church and School March 19, the foster father of Jesus had center stage - or rather, center table.

In his honor, the Clifton school and parish hosted their annual St. Joseph Table, an elaborate display of food with a statue of the saint in the middle.

The custom was brought to the United States from Sicily, where, according to tradition, prayers to St. Joseph ended a severe famine. In thanksgiving, Sicilians held a feast and invited the poor and homeless to attend. The tables, or altars, continue to be set up each year by Italians around the world.

The temporary shrines to St. Joseph consist of at least three tiers to symbolize the Trinity, and all food is meatless since the feast is held during Lent.

The tradition came to St. Andrew in 1996, when Italians Joayn Bahr, now parish secretary, and then-teacher Karen Truman placed a small St. Joseph Table outside the school office. The table has grown into a celebration that welcomes students and parishioners.

Arranged in the parish hall, last week's spread included Italian foods such as pignolata, or honey balls; sfinges, or small cream puffs; and pasta with "sawdust" (breadcrumbs and sugar) to recognize Joseph's profession as a carpenter. Not-so-traditional fare, like brownies, also was in the mix.

The focal point, though, was a statue of St. Joseph holding the Christ Child. The statue recently was repainted for the occasion by Father Joseph D. Bergida, parochial vicar of St. Andrew. At the foot of the statue, framed by flower garlands, were carpenter tools, including a mallet and small level.

Click here to read how the 20-year-old statue was given new life.

Bahr, who remembers going with her grandmother to visit St. Joseph Tables when she was young, has a special love for the gentle carpenter and hopes the table increases devotion to the patron saint of fathers and the universal church.

Next to the Blessed Mother, Joseph is the most important saint, said Father Bergida, as he twisted his fork around "sawdust" pasta.

"I recently told the eighth-grade class that because he's often neglected, he has more time to listen to our prayers," he said.

After piling their plates with the tasty treats, several students shared why they believe St. Joseph is special.

"I think St. Joseph is important because he was such a hard worker," said second-grader Andrew Matteson.

Fifth-grader Kathleen Murphy said she thought it was impressive that Joseph was willing to marry Mary even though she was pregnant.

Her classmate Alyssa An agreed, adding, "It was probably hard to live with Mary and Jesus, since they were perfect."

The St. Joseph Table is an example of the "rich tapestry of traditions and devotions to saints in the Catholic faith," said Father John D. Kelly, pastor.

He said St. Joseph exemplifies much-needed qualities in our culture. As a model caregiver, he challenges us to be kinder and gentler in our interactions with others. "If there were more caregivers," said Father Kelly, "the world would be a better place."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015