Pope’s Year of Saint Joseph is special for the Ursuline Sisters

It was on the feast of Saint Joseph – March 19, 2010 – when Ursuline Sister Stephany Nelson first thought God might be calling her to religious life.

She was teaching at a school named for Saint Joseph in Bowling Green, Ky., and felt led to join a religious community that honors the foster father of Jesus. Sister Stephany is among the many people who are happy that Pope Francis has decreed 2021 a special year dedicated to Saint Joseph for the global Catholic Church.

“In my life, Saint Joseph has guided me along the way,” Sister Stephany said. “I think it’s great to have this year to think about Saint Joseph. With so much going on in the world, we really need that protection and guidance.”

The pope’s decree on Dec. 8, 2020, coincided with the 150th anniversary of Saint Joseph being named patron of the universal church.

In this papal letter, Pope Francis said he had been thinking about the move for some time but his desire to decree the special year increased as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded. The pope compares Joseph to the many unheralded essential workers keeping society afloat in times of social distancing and remote work.

“Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble,” the pope wrote. “Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

Sister Stephany, who teaches second grade at the Owensboro Catholic K-3 Campus, celebrates March 19 as her feast day. Sister Marie Joseph Coomes, assistant to the director of Local Community Life at the Motherhouse, also honors Saint Joseph with her feast day of May 1, Saint Joseph the Worker.

“Saint Joseph was the protector of Jesus and Mary. Saint Joseph was obedient to God,” Sister Marie Joseph said. Her father’s name was Joseph and her mother was Josetta.

“My dad prayed to Saint Joseph for our family,” she said.

The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph trace their name to two schools on what is now the Motherhouse. In 1863, the Sisters of Loretto opened St. Joseph’s Academy, so named because the superior at the time had a great devotion to Joseph. There are no Daviess County historical records that show the name “St. Joseph” in use for the surrounding community prior to the school being built, so it’s likely the area took its name from the school.

After the school burned in 1870 and the Sisters of Loretto left, Father Paul Joseph Volk built a new Saint Joseph Academy in 1874. He invited the Ursuline Sisters from Louisville to lead it. Saint Joseph was Father Volk’s patron saint.

There are no plans as yet on how to celebrate the year of Saint Joseph at Maple Mount, but the Ursuline Sisters always celebrate Saint Joseph’s feast day on March 19 with a special Mass and meal.

The pope’s decree offers a plenary indulgence to Catholics who choose to take part in the special year in one of six outlined ways. In Catholic teaching, an indulgence is the remission of the eventual punishment due for sins that have been confessed and forgiven. A plenary indulgence, which can only be granted in various ways outlined by the Vatican, involves the remission of all of a person’s eventual punishment.

The six ways Catholics can celebrate the year include:

  • Meditating for at least 30 minutes on the Our Father prayer;
  • Undertaking a work of spiritual or corporal mercy in the example of Joseph, who is called a “just man” in Matthew’s Gospel;
  • Reciting the holy rosary among your family or with your partner;
  • Entrusting your daily work to the protection of Joseph, or invoking the intercession of Joseph in trying to find employment;
  • Reciting the Litany of Saint Joseph, or making another similar prayer, on behalf of persecuted Christians; and,
  • Making an act of piety in honor of Joseph on the 19th of the month or on Wednesday, the day traditionally dedicated to the saint’s memory.