2021 has been declared by Pope Francis as the Year of St Joseph, a very special saint in the life of the Church and of many people. Sr Grace Roclawska csfn sat down with Sr Sophie Boffa csfn to talk about what St Joseph means to her and how we can grow closer to him during this important year.
Sr Grace Roclawska: When did Sr Joseph become your “favourite” saint? Was there any significant event which created the bond between him and you?
Sr Sophie Boffa: St Joseph and I have a bit of a history. When my sister Rachel and I were little and would visit our grandparents, our grandmother would dress us up as Mary and Joseph – with a teddy bear standing in for Jesus – and we would walk down the hallway of her home to When a Child is Born. Both Rachel and I always wanted to be Mary, so Joseph always looks very grumpy in photos.
Then there was the time I accidentally decapitated the ceramic figurine of St Joseph in our family nativity set. My dad managed to glue his head back on, but by then the damage had been done!
I really started wanting to know more about St Joseph as a person when I was first discerning my vocation to religious life. I began feeling very close to the Holy Family, and saw that Jesus, Mary and Joseph wanted me to be close to them, too — even with my track record!
Sr Grace: What attributes of this saint do you admire the most and why?
Sr Sophie: I really admire Joseph’s selflessness and trust. Mary’s pregnancy placed him in a difficult situation. He would have been within his rights to divorce her publicly and cause her great shame; in fact, it would have been expected of him to do this. But out of love and respect, he chooses a way forward which avoids her any embarrassment. He acts selflessly and against the natural tendency to publicly identify and criticise those who we feel have “wronged” us.
We don’t know a lot about Joseph, but the brief Scriptural accounts we do have are consistent in showing that he was faced with significant decisions which he had to make with “blind faith” and trust. He acts not based on his knowledge, but based on a trust in God’s leadership and guidance. I pray Joseph can help me to grow in these two qualities.
Sr Grace: You have written a PHD about St Joseph – can you tell us a bit more about it?
Sr Sophie: I completed my doctorate in Art History. My focus was a 16th century devotional book called The Summary of the Excellencies of St Joseph, written by Jéronimo Gracián, a Spanish Carmelite friar. The original edition of this book included six engravings showing scenes from the life of St Joseph, and which also helped to summarise the text for the book’s audience. When I saw the engravings for the first time, I fell in love with them and I knew I had to make them the topic of my research! In my thesis, I look at each engraving individually and explore how they work with the text of the book to express Joseph’s fatherhood and masculinity. My time of research was very blessed; I had lots of support from my sisters, I met amazing people, and I was able to visit different places around the world to see the manuscript and other artworks in person.
Sr Grace: Pope Francis proclaimed 2021 the Year of St Joseph? What does it mean? Where can we find more about it?
Sr Sophie: The Year of St Joseph began on 8 December, 2020, the 150th anniversary of St Joseph being titled Patron of the Universal Church. It will end on the same date in 2021. This is a special time of coming closer to the saint, to learning more about his virtues and seeking his intercession. Pope Francis announced this year in his Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), which is available here and is well worth a read.
Sr Grace: Do you have any personal goal in the context of this special year?
Sr Sophie: I pray I will continue growing closer to St Joseph. I see him not only as a friend in heaven, but also as a father figure and role model who I can talk with and learn from. I commit to praying with and for Pope Francis, using the special prayer he includes in Patris Corde:
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.
Sr Grace: What would be your advice to a person who cannot connect with St Joseph as yet? How to make him an important man in your life?
Sr Sophie: Start small. You could search for a prayer that speaks to your heart, spend time meditating on Scripture or looking at artworks of the Holy Family, or reading a book about St Joseph – there are some very good ones. Most important, though, is asking St Joseph to come closer to you, and to help you become closer to him. That desire for closeness is the very first step.
St Joseph, pray for us.
Sr Grace Roclawska and Sr Sophie Boffa are Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.