Sarah Hanley

In June of last year, we looked at Pope Francis’ apostolic letter of December 2020. As another Father’s Day draws near it seems appropriate to reflect again on this enlightened document.

St. Joseph is often seen as a saint for fathers and father figures alike. A spiritual and virtuous counselor to emulate and seek guidance from as we map our role as fathers. Pope Francis penned the apostolic letter titled Patris Corde (“With a Father’s Heart”) in preparation for the year honoring St. Joseph, 2021.

In his letter he explains the fatherhood of St. Joseph through seven lenses: a beloved father; a tender and loving father; an obedient father; an accepting father; a creatively courageous father; a working father, and a “father in the shadows.” Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Beloved Father: Joseph is the earthly father of Jesus, but he, like Mary, knows that this child is born unto this earth to be the redeemer of humanity and that his true Father lives and reigns in the kingdom of heaven. As such, he uses his legal, earthly authority as a father to protect and provide for Jesus in safety and love so that he may grow into his fullness as the Messiah.


Tender and Loving Father: We can rightly say that Joseph modeled fatherhood for Jesus. Knowing what God’s plan for Jesus was and being his earthly father, Joseph’s gift of tender love and ministrations helped him grow strong in mind and body. As a result, when it came time for Christ to take up his ministry he did so with the unconditional love of his family and an inherent understanding of his role in God’s plan.

An Obedient Father: We often think that it is a child’s responsibility to be obedient to his father. But Joseph shows us that even fathers are answering to a higher calling. When Mary is pregnant, Joseph has a dream that tells him the Child of God will be born through Mary. At that moment and forevermore, Joseph puts the welfare of Mary and Jesus above all else. Listening to God’s commands he is obedient not only to the Word of God but also to his paternal responsibility of putting his family’s best interests before his own.

An Accepting Father: Here, perhaps, is the most difficult lens through which Joseph models fatherhood for us. Can we accept our children and their lives even when we do not understand why it is so? Pope Francis tells us, “In our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations, and disappointments.” We see in Joseph the acceptance of God’s plan, even though quite conceivably he didn’t understand it, and most certainly was contrary to the societal norms of the day.

A Creatively Courageous Father: In Patris Corde, Pope Francis says that “in the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it.” Joseph, as the father of Jesus, husband of Mary and protector of the Holy Family, is faced with difficulties time and again. However, trusting in the divine providence of God’s plan, he creatively turns troubles into opportunities. If we feel like our difficulties outnumber our blessings at times, we need to remember that God trusts us to be creative, courageous, and find solutions to our problems.

A Working Father: St. Joseph has long been associated with the ethic of work. He earned an honorable living as a carpenter and provided for his family; likewise, he taught Jesus the value, joy, and dignity that can be found in providing for one’s family from the fruits of his labor. How then, Pope Francis asks, “can we speak of human dignity without working to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living?” We, as followers of Christ, must find ways to make certain that everybody has the opportunity to work.

A Father in the Shadows: The role of a responsible and loving father or father figure, as we have seen in St. Joseph, is not an easy one. A father must embody many truths and live them actively. He must teach, model and communicate the virtues of fatherhood so that the child can grow to the fullness of their potential. And then finally, he must be able to let go of all the previous truths. He must be a father in the shadows, who allows the child to have the freedom to walk “the paths of life unaccompanied.”

CFGP strives to demonstrate a mission worthy of St. Joseph. We work to express love in all our endeavors, understanding that it is unconditional love for the church that leads people to us. We are committed to these values and pray to St. Joseph for his guidance as we continue our work of growing philanthropy according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. To learn more about CFGP and our work, visit

The Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia wishes for you this Father’s Day, the blessing of St. Joseph: May you find the fortitude to live your life as he demonstrated.


Sarah Hanley is the president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia.