Devoted Dads: Saintly Examples of Fatherhood
Holy advice from St. Joseph to St. Louis Martin.
Saintly models for fatherhood abound, including single godfathers and those looking toward marriage and starting families.
At the top of the list is St. Joseph.
“He’s the one God chose to raise his own son,” said Father Larry Toschi of the Oblates of St. Joseph, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Bakersfield, California, and author of Husband, Father, Worker. “Nobody knows better than God what we need in a father.”
“Faith is a big one,” in terms of Joseph’s example, according to Father Toschi. Joseph showed faith in God, willingly trusted against all odds, and believed in God’s plan. His was a spirit of sacrifice and willingness to accept Mary’s perpetual virginity.
Joseph embraces the vocation of fatherhood by raising Jesus in the Jewish faith.
Joseph “follows the prescriptions of the Jewish law,” the Oblate priest explained. “He knows he’s the earthly father, but more important is the Heavenly Father.”
Most of all, Joseph helps his child and supports him in his vocation in life — “the things every father needs to do,” said Father Toschi — “supporting whatever God calls their children to.”
St. Louis Martin, father of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also supported five of his daughters in their vocations. “If God is calling you, respond to God. That’s what he taught the girls,” said Carmelite Father Bob Colaresi. Martin’s best-known child is the Little Flower, but her sisters entered the convent, too.
Father Colaresi admires the “generosity with which he gave his girls to God. He was a man of incredible faith — faith in action.” He was part of a men’s group at the local church that brought God into society, confronting the secularization of the time, 19th-century France.
Father Colaresi sees St. Louis’ top attribute as another example for modern dads. “First of all, Thérèse got the positive image of a merciful, loving God from her dad.”
Hypersensitive as a child, Thérèse often had tantrums, but her father “had this patience with her which would have tested most people. She learned he still loved her, and he never held it against her.”
He said her father’s example became a model of the unconditional love of God for her as she grew out of tantrums and into a deep personal faith.
St. Louis “sat with her, and he listened to her,” Father Colaresi observed. “He kept realizing you have to listen to what’s going on, not just tell what’s right and wrong.”
Benedict and Francis de Sales
Two saints who weren’t biological fathers are still models for fathers, according to Sam Guzman, founder of the website The Catholic Gentleman (CatholicGentleman.net). The first is St. Benedict of Norcia.
Benedict begins his Rule: “Listen my son,” Guzman said, “and he talks to these monks as if they were his children.” Benedict talks about “being gentle yet not neglecting discipline, correcting the ‘children’ with love, and guiding with a gentleness, kindness and humility we’re supposed to have as fathers: to not lord it over our children, and to really model the holiness that we desire them to have.”
This is good advice that Guzman strives to remember as a father. He and wife Laura have two sons and a daughter, age 16 months to 5, and one on the way.
“They have to know they are loved when you discipline,” explained Guzman. “It’s so easy for us as fathers to want to control behavior. We think that it is easier to just control behavior, never penetrating to the deeper heart issues that are there. That might change their behavior, but won’t change their hearts.”
Educating a child has “to be based on trust,” he added. “A child is never going to trust you if you he sees you as an angry, domineering person who wants to simply control. Children need to know we love them first and foremost and we will the good for them and have their best interests at heart. As fathers we need to have that relationship of trust.”
He also looks to the great Counter-Reformation saint Francis de Sales who, Guzman detailed, had a very fatherly presence. Although he had a hot temper, he “mastered himself in such a degree he was known by his gentleness and meekness.”
As a father, Jason Godin focuses on “what the Church has shown us is a wisdom of faith in action.” St. Louis Martin had it, and so did St. Thomas More (whose feast day is June 22), he said. “When his faith is put to the test … he tells the king, ‘I am the king’s good servant, but I am God’s good servant first,’” said Godin, who writes for the Fathers for Good website, of St. Thomas.
More made that clear in his correspondence with his daughter Meg.
In the letters, St. Thomas “knows the price, weighs the price and balances it. He does a cost benefit and sees the benefits outweigh the costs in the end,” explained Godin, office manager at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church and School in Edina, Minnesota. He and wife Megan have an 8-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
St. Thomas More shows fathers need to lead spiritually and make prudent decisions.
Godin also observed that St. Joseph is a model of prudence — as well as patience and perseverance, “two qualities fathers today can use in abundance.”
St. Joseph shows the way in Scripture passages from Luke, “where you can see Joseph is actually striking those two in a perfect way, helping Mary, seeing Jesus comes into the world, seeing he’s protected all the time, and then nurturing him into adulthood.”
Just as St. Joseph protected the Holy Family from King Herod by fleeing to Egypt, today’s fathers “are to protect their wives and children from the plots of the modern Herods who are inspired by the evil spirit to destroy the Christian family in the modern world,” wrote Jesuit Father John Hardon, designated a “Servant of God.”
Added Father Toschi, “Be vigilant over the children and protect them. Do not let the internet or phone be a baby sitter for them. And there are many bad influences from wrong friends.”
King Louis IX
St. Louis — King Louis IX of France — wrote a letter filled with advice for his eldest son, who would become Philip III. Godin explained, “It speaks of a father who cared about the next generation and passing on the faith — which fathers need to be aware of today.”
This letter, which has survived through the centuries, contains “lessons of faith that need to be learned at the end of the day and are going to transcend any generation. It’s about communicating the eternal truth of the Gospel and the faith and passing it on.”
St. Louis anticipated St. John Paul II’s words centuries later in Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) that fathers, in “revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God,” are “called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family,” including “by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life, which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.”
“Therefore, dear son, the first thing I advise is that you fix your whole heart upon God and love him with all your strength, for without this no one can be saved or be of any worth,” wrote Louis, adding, “With all your strength, shun everything which you believe to be displeasing to him. And you ought especially to be resolved not to commit mortal sin.”
The Crusader king’s advice to his son also highlighted gratitude to God; frequent confession; respectfulness in church, especially at Mass; tenderness of heart for family as well as the poor and all in misery of heart or body; avoidance of bad society; adherence to the word of God; opposition to ill will spoken of God or his saints; and devotion to the Church and respect for the pope.
He concluded, in part, “May the Lord give you the grace to do his will, so that he may be served and honored through you.”
That can be Catholic dads’ prayer for their children, too.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.