Sleeping St. Joseph

How this snoozing icon rose to popularity.

Statues of Jesus’ earthy father have become more popular in recent years. Pope Francis has a version of this statue on his desk.
Statues of Jesus’ earthy father have become more popular in recent years. Pope Francis has a version of this statue on his desk. (photo: Courtesy of EWTN Religious Catalogue)

Most icons and statues of saints are, well, rather stiff. They are typically a bust or image of the saint standing still, maybe smiling slightly or gazing serenely into the distance, hands folded or holding something of significance. 

But six years ago, during his trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis popularized a more life-like saint statue: that of St. Joseph, lying on his side, fast asleep. 

“I like St. Joseph very much. He’s a strong man of silence. On my desk, I have an image of St. Joseph sleeping. Even when he is asleep, he looks after the Church. Yes! We know that he can do that,” Pope Francis said during an address in the Philippines on Jan. 16, 2015. “So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note, and I put it underneath St. Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words, I tell him: Pray for this problem!” he added. 

After this address, the statues of “Sleeping St. Joseph” saw an explosion in popularity. 

In June 2015, Catholic San Francisco reported that icons of the snoozing saint were “flying off shelves” in the Philippines and being brought back by travelers to the United States. 

Isa Huerta told the Register she was given a statue of the sleeping St. Joseph by her mother. Huerta said she had been drawn to the icon before she knew of Pope Francis’ devotion to it, though she said that increased her appreciation for it. 

She said she liked the icon because it reminded her of the passages in the Bible about St. Joseph’s dreams and the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. She said she also likes sleeping icons (she has a statue of baby Mary, asleep) because they seem sweeter and more peaceful. “It reminds you that St. Joseph was human and got tired, too,” Huerta said. “This makes me appreciate the work he did for Mary and Jesus all the more. It’s a vulnerable position, but it’s cool that this is when God chose to speak to him.” 

Megan Ward told the Register that she bought a sleeping St. Joseph icon for her husband after they found out she was pregnant. She said she had not had much of a devotion to St. Joseph before, apart from being Italian and celebrating St. Joseph’s feast day, but she was drawn to the sleeping St. Joseph after hearing of Pope Francis’ devotion to it.

“I bought it for my husband right after we found out we were pregnant and put our first sonogram of our son underneath it, so St. Joseph would and will pray for our son as he sleeps. Just like the angels visited in his sleep to tell him about Mary and gave him rest that it was God’s will, we wanted him (and still) want him to pray for God’s will for us and for our son,” she said. 

St. Joseph experiences four different dreams from God in the Gospel of Matthew. In the first dream, St. Joseph is told by an angel to continue with his plan to marry Mary, even though she has been found with child. After the birth of Jesus, St. Joseph is warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt. While in Egypt, St. Joseph is told in a dream to return to Israel, and then in another dream is told to go to Galilee instead of Judea. 

A spokesperson with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who sell a version of this statue in their online store, told the Register that they started carrying the statue in 2016, just after Pope Francis popularized this devotion. That year, they sold 800 of the statues, compared to the 200 or so they usually sell. They expect the icon will again pick up in popularity this year, which was declared by Pope Francis to be the Year of St. Joseph.

Theresa Leurck, a spokesperson for EWTN Religious Catalogue, said the religious-goods arm of EWTN has sold a version of the sleeping St. Joseph since 2016 (one option is shown, courtesy of EWTN Religious Catalogue). She said while they have not done much in the way of promoting that specific image, it seems to generate its own sales from buyers. 

In his 2015 address in the Philippines, Francis said that the way St. Joseph responded to the dreams — by rising and doing as God had asked — shows that he was a man who was willing to do the will of God immediately: “Those precious moments of repose, of resting with the Lord in prayer, are moments we might wish to prolong. But like St. Joseph, once we have heard God’s voice, we must rise from our slumber; we must get up and act.” 

EWTN Religious Catalogue sells statues depicting St. Joseph sleeping. Visit or call (800) 854-6316.

 A Prayer to Sleeping St. Joseph

O St. Joseph, you are a man greatly favored by the Most High. The angel of the Lord appeared to you in dreams, while you slept, to warn you and guide you as you cared for the Holy Family. You were both silent and strong, a loyal and courageous protector.

Dear St. Joseph, as you rest in the Lord, confident of his absolute power and goodness, look upon me. Please take my need (mention your request) into your heart, dream of it, and present it to your Son. Help me then, good St. Joseph, to hear the voice of God, to arise, and act with love. I praise and thank God with joy. St. Joseph, I love you. Amen.