On saint’s feast day, gifts of prayer, priestly service

By Colleen Boyle Sharp
Special to the CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Holy Family Home in Southwest Philadelphia revisited an old tradition in honor of St. Joseph’s feast day this year. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden and seven archdiocesan priests visited the nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor last Friday, March 19.

The bishop and priests, as part of the long tradition started by the sisters over 250 years ago, celebrated Mass and served a meal to the elderly residents of the home.

The sisters held the event on March 19 to honor the order’s patron saint and protector, St. Joseph, on his feast day.

“For a few years we had fallen away from this feast day practice but decided to reinstitute the custom because of it being the year of the priest,” said Little Sister of the Poor Mother Veronica Coyle, president of Holy Family Home.

“Our devotion to St. Joseph,” she said, “started with the foundress of our order, Jeanne Jugan. When visiting a very wealthy part of France, St. Jeanne Jugan noticed the elderly had no butter; she put the empty butter dishes in front of a St. Joseph statue with a note saying, ‘Your children have no butter.’ People began bringing butter to the poor from all over. Whenever we are in need of something we just pray to St. Joseph and he provides it for us.”

Over 60 residents filled the chapel to join in the celebration of liturgy in honor of the home’s patron saint.

“On this day the Church reminds us that as St. Joseph protected Mary and Jesus, St. Joseph is also a gift from God to us to be our protector because we are part of the Body of Christ,” Bishop McFadden said in his homily. “Responsibility for Joseph did not end with the death of Jesus but rather increased, I would suggest, because he was now called not only to protect Jesus but to continue to protect each one of us as we journey through life.”

After the Mass, Bishop McFadden and the priests, wearing white aprons, quickly took on the duties of the home’s wait staff by taking orders and serving the noontime meal to 80 residents in the facility’s three dining rooms.

“This has been a very special day,” said Therese Haughey, a three-year resident of Holy Family Home and former parishioner of St. Andrew Parish in Drexel Hill. “It’s been a delight to have the priests extend their service to us. When I saw them with their aprons on I said, ‘they really are the servants of the Lord.’ They are very good to us and through prayer we try to be very good to them.”

Mary Burke, who has lived at Holy Family for 10 years, grew up just a few blocks from the home in what formerly was Most Blessed Sacrament Parish. Burke, 89, remembers coming to the home as a child to volunteer in the original two-story building at 5300 Chester Ave. The home still has the same address, but a new and larger building was built on the site in 1973.

“I used to come and serve meals to the old people who lived here when I was young. Now I’ve grown old and the bishop and the priests are coming here to serve us. It’s a beautiful tribute,” said Burke.

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to come and spend some time with the residents,” Bishop McFadden said. “I think it’s important to affirm that God is with them, we are thinking about them and that people do love them.”

Colleen Boyle Sharp is a freelance writer and photographer, and a parishioner of St. Katherine of Siena in Philadelphia.