Beholding St. Joseph: Appearances and Apparitions Over the Centuries
Where has the head of the Holy Family made his presence known?
While the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared numerous times through the centuries, Church-approved apparitions of St. Joseph, while less frequent, have been significant and consequential. Saints from St. Teresa of Ávila to St. Gertrude to St. Faustina were blessed by his appearances and intercession, as were inhabitants in locales from Flanders, Belgium, to Knock, Ireland, and Fatima, Portugal.
Saints Seek His Aid
In the 16th century, St. Teresa of Ávila said he appeared to her when she was having trouble establishing a particular convent. She wrote in her autobiography, “Once, when I was in a difficulty and could not think what to do, or how I was going to pay some workmen, Saint Joseph, my true father and lord, appeared to me and gave me to understand that money would not be lacking and I must make all the necessary arrangements. I did so, though I had not a farthing, and the Lord, in ways which amazed people when they heard of them, provided the money.”
This great devotee of St. Joseph, who named her foundations after the beloved saint, received another visit from St. Joseph. In 1521 in Ávila, “on the festival of the Assumption of Our Lady, I was in a monastery of the Order of the glorious Saint Dominic,” wrote St. Teresa, “when there came upon me a rapture so vehement that it nearly drew me forth out of myself altogether.” She saw herself being clothed in “a garment of great whiteness and brightness. At first I could not see who was clothing me, but later I saw Our Lady on my right hand and my father St. Joseph on my left, and it was they who were putting that garment upon me. I was given to understand that I was now cleansed of my sins. When the clothing was ended, and I was experiencing the greatest joy and bliss, I thought that Our Lady suddenly took me by the hands and told me that I was giving her great pleasure by serving the glorious St. Joseph and that I might be sure that all I was trying to do about the convent would be accomplished and that both the Lord and they two would be greatly served in it. I was not to fear that there would be any failure whatever about this.”
More than two centuries earlier, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, St. Gertrude the Great had a vision in which Our Lady revealed to her the glory of St. Joseph. Gertrude recorded: “I saw Heaven opened and St. Joseph sitting upon a magnificent throne. I felt myself wonderfully affected when, each time his name was mentioned, all the Saints made a profound inclination toward him, showing by the serenity and sweetness of their looks that they rejoiced with him on account of his exalted dignity.”
St. Joseph also gave particular direction while appearing to St. Faustina in July 1937, while she was in her congregation’s home in Rabka, Poland, during a convalescence. In her diary (1203), she recorded, “St. Joseph urged me to have a constant devotion to him. He himself told me to recite three prayers [the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be] and the Memorare once every day. He looked at me with great kindness and gave me to know how much he is supporting this work [of mercy]. He has promised me this special help and protection. I recite the requested prayers every day and feel his special protection.”
In the early 16th century, a devotion requested by St. Joseph himself arose called “The Seven Our Fathers of St. Joseph,” which by the early 18th century would be expanded and known as “The Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph.”
It came into being after a ship sailing along the coast of Flanders sank during a terrible tempest. Father Matthew Spencer, provincial superior of the Oblates of St. Joseph, shared the details during talks on Relevant Radio. Two Franciscan friars aboard found themselves clinging for dear life to pieces of the ship’s wreckage. For three days and nights they managed to stay afloat. Because they had always been devoted to St. Joseph, they continuously begged him with great fervor to come to their aid and save them.
Father Spencer said on the third day, a man appeared, quite radiant, and told them to have faith and trust in St. Joseph. They obeyed. The man rescued them, getting them safely ashore. Once on land, the two friars asked who he was and how they could thank him or what honor they could pay him.
It was then that he identified himself as St. Joseph. He told them that, if they wanted to please and honor him, they should daily recite the Our Father and Hail Mary seven times while meditating on his seven sorrows and seven joys, based on his daily life with Jesus and Mary. Then St. Joseph disappeared from sight. A 16th-century Capuchin recorded the whole story in a book on the Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph visited the little village of Cotignac in Provence, France, on June 7, 1660, during an exceptionally hot summer. At about 1pm, a young shepherd named Gaspard Ricard took a rest on Mount Besillon, seeking relief from the roasting heat and his exceptional thirst. Looking up, he saw a tall man.
Pointing to a large boulder, the man said, “I am Joseph. Lift it and you will drink.” Ricard didn’t ask how he would lift the huge boulder — he immediately went toward the enormous rock and was able to lift it, discovering, as Joseph said, a fresh water spring underneath. When looking up to thank the stranger, Ricard saw the man had vanished. The shepherd dashed to the village to tell the townspeople, who rushed to see the newly revealed spring.
The EWTN original documentary Shrine of the Holy Family: Provence France (EWTNReligiousCatalogue.com; Item: HDSHF) tells how, by that July 25, “the city council mentions that the source pointed out by St. Joseph has abundant healing qualities and attracts people from all over the region who come to wash, drink and find healing remedies.”
Townspeople built the first chapel at the site, and healings took place at the sanctuary and spring. In one example, in 1662, Father Allard of the oratory built on the site wrote, “The waters of St. Joseph bring miracles. Since I returned, a man whom we know from Avignon, born lame, went to the spring and came back cured, having left his crutches there. Everyone drinks and carries away the water.” A history on the sanctuary’s website, SaintJosephDuBessillon.org, relates of that time, “They go to the fountain from all the places of the province and the surrounding countries, the infirm, the sick of all kinds, most of them returning healed, or comforted by their infirmities.” The spring has never dried up.
As a result of these miraculous events, King Louis XIII royally decreed that, from March 19, 1661, the feast of St. Joseph would be celebrated as a holiday throughout the kingdom. The king had already consecrated himself, his throne and France to the Virgin Mary because he and the queen knew of her apparition with the Christ Child, also in Cotignac, a little earlier at the site of the new Chapel of Our Lady of Graces — 2 miles away.
Also in 1661, the bishop of Fréjus joined both apparition sites under the title “Sanctuary of the Holy Family” and declared, “God, by the graces he wished to grant in honor of St. Joseph, wished not to separate in the devotion of the faithful, the two holy persons (Mary and Joseph) whom he had joined on earth, for the mystery of our salvation.”
In the Church, the local bishop is the main authority for investigating apparitions, going back to the Council of Trent.
Today, faithful still come to this French hamlet, seeking Joseph’s aid.
Two centuries later, on the evening of Aug. 21, 1879, St. Joseph appeared with Our Lady and St. John the Evangelist in Knock, Ireland, at the parish church. Joseph stood to Mary’s right side. The Lamb of God also appeared on an altar. As recorded in official Knock archives (KnockShrine.ie), Patrick Hill, among the 15 villagers who saw the apparition, reported that “St. Joseph appeared “to the Blessed Virgin’s right hand; his head was bent from the shoulders, forward; he appeared to be paying his respects. … [H]is hands were joined like a person at prayer.”
Witness Mary Byrne described how “St. Joseph’s head was slightly bent and inclined towards the Blessed Virgin, as if paying her respect.” Mariologist Msgr. Arthur Calkins explained in his article “The Apparition of St. Joseph at Knock” that, “in these latter times by means of apparitions and the deepening awareness of the Church, God is drawing our attention to the greatness of St. Joseph in terms of his role in salvation history and the power of his intercession.”
He quoted Irish Mariologist Father Michael O’Carroll, who perceived St. Joseph’s appearance as convincing us to “seek help in prayer towards an understanding of his role in the life of the Church and in our own personal lives.”
Father O’Carroll explained the tableau represented the Paschal Mystery, linking Joseph with the Eucharist, and it “confirms that all St. Joseph’s grace and glory come from his marriage bond with Mary. It is also a potent lesson to us Christians to base our lives and conduct on the closest relationship possible with Mary, Queen of the Universe.”
On Oct. 13, 1917, St. Joseph’s most prominent 20th-century appearance came at Fatima during the “Miracle of the Sun.” Fatima seer Servant of God Sister Lucia dos Santos described in her memoirs, Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words, how, during the apparition, the seers “beheld St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus seemed to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands.”
St. Joseph’s appearance was a reminder of the importance of fatherhood and family.
“The fatherhood of St. Joseph, as with all human fathers, is a reflection in a creature of the fatherhood of God the Father,” Msgr. Joseph Cirrincione wrote in his booklet St. Joseph, Fatima and Fatherhood. “[T]he vision of St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus blessing the world, with Mary by the side of the sun, which has not left its place, is God’s assurance that although man may reject Him, God will never reject man.”
St. Joseph is an ever-present source of aid to the faithful.
In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI said, “To St. Joseph’s intercession I entrust the hopes of the Church and of the world. May he, together with the Virgin Mary, his spouse, always guide my way and yours, so that we are able to be joyful instruments of peace and of salvation.”
And as Venerable Pius XII put it in 1955, “If you want to be close to Christ, I repeat to you: Ite ad Ioseph (‘Go to Joseph!’).”