In the spirit of this Year of Saint Joseph proclaimed by our Holy Father Pope Francis, it is fitting to look at an interesting article published by the Oblates of Saint Joseph which sheds some light on a little known and unexplored aspect of Saint Joseph’s patronage. The article, titled “Patron of the Unborn,” describes a statue of Saint Joseph erected in Santa Cruz, California, by the Oblates of Saint Joseph in 2001. The bronze statue, standing seven feet tall and “seated on a curved bench holding a six month old fetus in his hands,” is intended to be a site of reconciliation and healing for mothers and fathers who have had an abortion. In the shrine there is a seat next to the statue, so that the parent burdened by the guilt and sorrow of the abortion may look into the loving, fatherly gaze of Saint Joseph, and become able to work through the guilt and grief of the abortion and move along through the process of healing. Surrounding the statue of Saint Joseph and the bench next to the statue are “two semi-circular barriers” intended not only for privacy but also as a place where parents can engrave the name of their aborted child on a plaque after choosing a name for him or her, which assures the parent that the child has “been entrusted to the Lord through the hands of St. Joseph.”
What is interesting about this shrine is that Saint Joseph is seen as Patron of the Unborn in this whole process of reconciliation and healing. As the parent chooses a name for the aborted child, Saint Joseph is seen as “a most fitting model and patron for this important, but difficult step.” The article continues, that “[Saint Joseph] may be prayerfully invoked for assistance in choosing and giving the name [for the aborted child],” since the Great Patriarch “was the one chosen by God to name His own Son, and since [Saint Joseph] was told the specific name to give while the child was still in the womb.” As the grieving parent looks into the face of the loving father of Christ, holding an infant child in his arms, he or she is reminded that his or her aborted child is now in the arms of the Heavenly Father, and in the arms of Saint Joseph, protected from all harm and safe for eternity. In this fatherly representation of Saint Joseph, the article connects Saint Joseph’s paternity with his patronage of the Unborn; “Joseph was the one chosen for the role of father to the Son of God incarnate in Mary’s womb…[w]ithin his universal patronage, it is certainly fitting in our times that he be given a new title as ‘Patron of the Unborn.’ No one can be a better defender of innocent, helpless life in the womb.”
This idea might seem a bit novel to Catholics; Saint Joseph as Patron of the Unborn. For surely when a Catholic usually thinks of the title “Patron of the Unborn,” he usually associates this title with Mary, calling to mind the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe signifying her patronage of those innocent lives in the womb of every mother. Moreover, Catholics usually associate Saint Joseph’s patronage as extending to fathers and to families, and not to the unborn. How is it then that the man who never co-operated physically in generating a child can be the patron of the offspring of such a generation? When Catholics truly understand Saint Joseph through great thinkers such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and through the mind of the Church, we will realize that Saint Joseph is not only the Patron Saint of fathers and of families, but so too of every child in the womb.