The Incredible Story Behind the Year of St. Joseph
How Marian Father Donald Calloway got an important letter to Pope Francis.
VATICAN CITY— When Pope Francis declared a Year of St. Joseph, news of the declaration quickly spread. How this year may have been inspired is, perhaps, less well known.
Marian Father Donald Calloway, author of Consecration to St. Joseph, told the Register in a series of interviews that although he heard the news with gratitude and awe, he was keenly aware of details that may have led to this historic declaration.
Father Calloway revealed details of a letter that he had sent in May 2019 — hand-delivered by Bishop Héctor Zordán of Gualeguaychú, Argentina — to Pope Francis, requesting that such a year be dedicated to St. Joseph for the universal Church. Previous to this letter, Father Calloway explained, another earlier request to the Apostolic Penitentiary had been granted: that those taking part in consecration to St. Joseph would be granted plenary indulgences for their pious participation.
“After writing the book, I became aware that we, the universal Church, have never had a year dedicated to St. Joseph,” Father Calloway explained. “So I was like, ‘This is kind of embarrassing! The greatest saint after Our Lady — the Defender of the Church — and we’ve never even done something like this?’ So I was inspired to write to Pope Francis. I wasn’t sure how, exactly, I’d manage to get it to him, or how the Pope would receive it, let alone if he would act on it. So at first I started writing individual bishops asking that they consider dedicating a year to St. Joseph in their individual dioceses — and many responded. Last year, however, on May 1 (the feast of St. Joseph the Worker), I decided to write this letter to the Pope.”
Father Calloway explained that he initially wrote his letter in English but was quickly advised by a fellow Marian of the Immaculate Conception to translate it into the Pope’s native Spanish.
“You know, I was aware that Pope Francis doesn’t really know English that well,” Father Calloway explained. “I wanted to make this as easy as possible for him to read. So I asked Father Dante Agüero in Argentina to translate it into Spanish.”
After Father Agüero translated it, he facilitated having it hand-delivered to the Pope by a visiting bishop from Argentina.
Although he and his brother priest scrambled to get the letter translated and delivered, Father Calloway was astounded at God’s providence. “It was clear this was God working: I mean, what were the chances that a bishop my friend knew would be meeting Pope Francis for his ad limina visit and that there could be a chance for him to deliver this letter personally?”
A New Bishop With a Divine Mission
Bishop Zordán confirmed to the Register that he delivered Father Calloway’s letter to Pope Francis during the ad limina visit of the bishops of Argentina. The meeting took place May 2, 2019.
“Father Dante Agüero, MIC — a friend for many years — gave me a letter from Father Donald Calloway, MIC, his brother in religion, to deliver to the Holy Father,” the Argentinian bishop told the Register. “Father Dante verbally anticipated the content of it: This was a special request to Pope Francis to convene a year dedicated to St. Joseph. In fact, Father Calloway is a great promoter of the devotion to St. Joseph.”
Bishop Zordán recounted the day he met Pope Francis May 2, 2019, and delivered Father Calloway’s letter. “I found myself very prepared, especially in prayer and reflection. I recall the Holy Father received us almost at the door of the courtroom in the Vatican. He personally greeted each of us individually, and he entertained each one of us by exchanging a few words, remembering people we knew in common and shared moments we may have had in Argentina.”
“When my turn to see him came,” Bishop Zordán said, “he greeted me with a gesture of joy. … I greeted him, joyfully, in return. We exchanged a few words, and it was then that I gave him several letters, including Father Calloway’s request for a Year of St. Joseph.”
After returning to Argentina, Bishop Zordán told the Register he was never contacted by the Vatican about the letter, but having given it directly to the Pope, the bishop knew Pope Francis would have at least read it and would possibly respond. “Now, however, I believe we can intuit … that the content of the letter contributed greatly to the convocation of the year dedicated to St. Joseph, which was announced by the Holy Father on Dec. 8.”
Bishop Zordán, in his correspondence with the Register, expressed his prayer for this year, “May God grant that in this jubilee year we are granted, as a grace, ‘the love for this great saint grow, so that we may be prompted to implore his intercession and imitate his virtues, as well as his zeal’” (Patris Corde).
Silently, St. Joseph Was Working
Father Calloway told the Register that, until Dec. 8, he heard nothing from the Vatican on his written request. “I had written to every diocese in the United States, by that point, asking that they declare a Year of St. Joseph.” By December he’d heard back from 11 U.S. bishops.
Although the responses from bishops were encouraging, Father Calloway admitted to the Register that it wasn’t quite the outcome he had hoped for.
“The letter to Pope Francis remained in my thoughts and prayers. I was getting contacted by people, asking if I had heard anything from the Pope; and I had to say No — but I was praying, praying, praying. All of the sudden, the announcement came — and they had to be prepared for it, because the apostolic letter, Patris Corde, was well researched, well thought out. The Holy See had planned for this amazing surprise! It is no small thing that the Holy Father declared this on the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as ‘Patron of the Universal Church.’”
The Perfect Examples of Marriage and Purity
Addressing some who expressed concern the declaration on Dec. 8 took focus away from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Father Calloway remarked, “You see, this is where we must look to the example of the Holy Spouses, St. Joseph and Our Lady. To be honest, I believe it was for this very reason Pope Pius IX made the declaration 150 years ago on this date. They are a couple; their hearts are one. As he protected her during his earthly life, cherishes her and loves her, it is so fitting that she places him before her on this day, offering her day for him. She lifts her husband up, in his headship — and how fitting that she glorified him on the day glorifying her.”
Father Calloway concluded that it was due to how this declaration took place that another inspiration led him to send yet another letter to Pope Francis this month — this one asking the Pope to declare Jan. 23 as an obligatory memorial of the Holy Spouses, St. Joseph and Mary. “A lot of people are very worried about the various crises that are happening in the world when it comes to families divorce rates, the breakdown of the family,” he explained. “Jesus himself says the pure of heart will see God. We have to be honest with how degrading our society has become, how pornographic. Clarity of sight and discernment seems completely disoriented. I mean, it’s downright diabolical disorientation. Right now, many men are not seeing God, let alone his will, because they're impure — not just sexually impure, but also spiritually and ideologically.”
A Catholic convert and a priest for 17 years, Father Calloway said he believes the root of divisions he is witnessing in the Church are the consequence of this impurity — even and especially among men who pray, who seek virtue. “Intentions are not pure,” he explained. “Why do you pray? What motivates you, even the attitude of your prayer — body language tells you a lot. Men have become inwardly focused, narcissistic, and the result of this is spiritual impotence. Their entire masculinity is undermined. It seems Satan is not worried about most men, now, and that’s a huge problem when the kids who grow up under these men have families. If fathers of households have no spiritual power, their authority has been usurped. No wonder the family is falling apart! No wonder all this is happening in the Church and in the world.”
Father Calloway explained that the Church has tried to meet these issues with programs, conferences and retreats — often at great financial cost — but says that these efforts only serve as the medicine, not the cure. “We have to get to the root of the problem, and St. Joseph is the man to do it. He is the model of the decisive man, a model of a masculine heart, and his marriage to Our Lady — and the clear example of how much she respects and uplifts him in this declaration on her solemnity — these are critical for our times.”