Work Like St. Joseph: Advice for Men

The Fathers of St. Joseph founder Devin Schadt helps heads of households grow in handiness and holiness.

The Church celebrates St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.
The Church celebrates St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. (photo: Unsplash)

The Catholic Church’s take on the value of work includes not only material and social realities, but spiritual ones. The saint who best personifies this eternal ethos is Joseph, the head of the Holy Family who built things with his own hands. 

Even though he already had a solemnity on the Church calendar on March 19, Pope Pius XII decided to extend the humble carpenter’s renown. In 1955, the Holy Father established May 1 as the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

May 1 falls on the Sabbath this year, so diligent labor takes the back seat to rest, spiritual reading, mediation on the value of work and prayers to, and in honor of, St. Joseph. It was these practices that, two decades ago, led Devin Schadt into a deeper understanding of his own position as a husband and father in the world. The fruit of his labors includes 20 books, hundreds of talks, and the founding of The Fathers of St. Joseph. 

Schadt, a 51-year-old Bettendorf, Iowa, native with a remarkable conversion story, recently shared with the Register some of his insights into St. Joseph and the value of work in his life and the lives of every man.

 

Have you always been a practicing Catholic?

My life’s story is a common one. As an infant, I was baptized in Christ and became a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Although I had attended catechism classes during my formative years, I was numb to religion and eventually interpreted it as hypocritical and oppressive.

We moved 14 different times before I went to college, which was one thing that contributed to me feeling rudderless and unsettled. After moving out of my parent’s home at the age of 18, I stopped attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass altogether. 

I succumbed to the world’s allurements, falling headlong into hedonism, or continual mortal sin, by attempting to find solace in money, women, prestige and partying. A black hole of selfish preoccupation, I even became involved in criminal activity and eventually plummeted into suicidal hopelessness. 

At the age of 24, when it seemed all hope was lost, a series of seemingly random events led to a singularly miraculous moment when God intervened. I had just graduated from commercial art school and was considering committing suicide. When fighting that temptation, I would often venture to a basketball court located next to a Catholic church, hoping to shake off the despair. 

As I was considering my options in life and death, I shot the ball and missed (which was common). The ball caromed off the backboard, so I chased it down, grabbed it and held it just below my line of vision. Looking over the ball, my sight was fixed on St. Edward’s Catholic Church.

 

Was that your literal and figurative entry back into Catholicism?

What happened next is inexplicable. I had no attraction to God or church, yet I was being magnetically drawn to walk though that church’s front doors (this was the “Middle Ages,” when church doors remained open during the day). I set the basketball down outside and walked into that dark, quiet house of God.

Not having a clue why I was there, I began to walk up the middle aisle, when something supernatural occurred: a weight of grace descended upon me, bringing me to my knees. I began to weep, expressing deep regret for my life. I remember pleading out loud, “I don’t know who you are, but I need you. I have tried to do this my way. I have driven this car into the ditch, and I cannot get out. … Please, you take over; please drive my life.”

During that very moment, beautiful music mysteriously echoed throughout the church. Blown away, I thought that surely this was a sign from heaven. But upon further consideration, I peered back into the choir loft, only to see an elderly woman practicing on the pipe organ. I sheepishly crawled into the pew and continued to surrender my life to the Person I now know is Jesus Christ.

 

What happened then?

That was a decisive turning point in my life. I gradually began to recognize that my lifestyle was not only sinful and damning for me, but also harming the people around me. I needed to improve, so I started looking into how to do that.

It was through Protestant preachers on Moody Bible Radio that I began to relearn (or learn for the first time, since I hadn’t really received the message earlier in life) how to love Jesus. I shopped around, attending services at Baptist, Lutheran and other churches in hopes (plural, just like the churches) of finding a spiritual home. That didn’t happen, but soon enough I would get home physically and spiritually.

I returned to my parents’ hometown, Bettendorf, Iowa, and met with Father Michael Phillips, who was my former high school’s chaplain, to share with him my extraordinary conversion. He prompted me to confess my sins sacramentally. As he absolved me of my sins, a literal heavy weight was lifted from me. The experience was so strong that I interjected while he was praying the words of absolution, “Something just happened — I felt something — something big!” He explained to me that Christ had taken upon himself the weight and cross of my sins.

Shortly after that confession, I returned to St. Edward’s Catholic Church and received what I now call my “first Holy Communion” because it was the only time up to that point that I remember receiving the Lord with a prepared heart. Again, something mystical occurred during this moment, which solidified my belief in Christ and my belief that the Catholic Church was home. From that moment I began to dedicate myself to him and his Bride, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

 

How did you become enamored of St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church?

After marrying my high-school sweetheart, Kim, in 1995, we desired to fulfill the command to be fruitful and multiply. However, it wasn’t easy. After two years of trying to conceive, we rejoiced that Kim was finally pregnant. Yet our hopes were dashed when Kim miscarried. We continued to beg God for children, and he answered our prayers quickly. In 1998, 1999 and 2000, we had our first three (of five) daughters. 

While our third daughter, only a month old, was on life support, my wife pleaded with me to come home and be a husband and father. It wasn’t that I didn’t live with or love my wife — I did. I thought that I was a good husband and father. 

At that time, however, I was leading a youth ministry, attempting to launch my own startup and working around the clock for my employer, creating and building sets for Fox News and a PBS cooking show. Family was not a priority. In fact, I was my priority — not in the same way as before my conversion, when I was into inherently immoral actions, but I was giving too much attention to things that were inherently good. That drew me away from family, which should have been given more consideration. 

I heeded my wife’s request and attempted to be a more attentive husband and father. But the sad truth was that I did not know how; I just didn’t have a vision of what being a good husband and father looked like.

Surrendering my dream to launch my own business and quitting ministry, I began to languish in no-man’s land. Looking back, I now understand that I was going through a “pride detox.”

A friend named Greg noticed this and took me on a pilgrimage halfway around the globe. While conversing with one of the pilgrimage leaders, Nancy, I explained that I felt like God was calling me to something, but I did not know how to actuate it. She asked, “Are you married?” (not because she was looking for a husband). I responded affirmatively. “Do you have children?” “Yes, three daughters.” She looked intently at me and said, “Go home and be St. Joseph.”

Honestly, her words were a bit anti-climactic. I would have much rather carried the sharp sword like St. Paul than a bunch of white lilies like St. Joseph. Additionally, St. Joseph was celibate — something I was not planning on embracing at all.

Nevertheless, I returned home and asked Our Lady to show me who St. Joseph is … and she did. Over the course of five years, I wrote the four volumes of Joseph’s Way: The Call to Fatherly Greatness. It was originally intended to be a letter to myself on a vision of fatherhood through the lens of St. Joseph. However, after sharing it with a friend, he secretly shared it with a publicist, who then shared it with Ignatius Press, who contacted me asking if they could publish the work.

It quickly became a bestseller, and I was being interviewed on radio and TV and was invited to speak at men’s conferences. Simultaneously, we founded a local group in Rock Island, Illinois, where I live today, called The Fathers of St. Joseph, in the hope of diving deeper into “Joseph’s Way.” 

Eventually, our first little chapter grew, and other men from across the country desired to launch their own local chapters. Today, there are dozens of chapters in the U.S. and even around the globe — including Austria, Italy, Australia and the Philippines.

 

What exactly is the purpose of The Fathers of St. Joseph?

The Fathers of St. Joseph labors for the restoration, redemption and revitalization of fatherhood, by supplying men with resources to help them live St. Joseph’s spirituality. Just as the Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites have a rule of life, we believe that fatherhood also has a spirituality, a rule of life, based on St. Joseph’s four pillars: embrace silence, embrace woman, embrace children, and embrace charitable authority.

A vital aspect of the proper spirituality of fatherhood is the right way of thinking about, and engaging in, work. There are the extremes of working too little or too much, so men need to see how work can be engaged in for the genuine good of self, family and community. It’s a great temptation to think that more work is always a good thing, since that means more money for the family, but sometimes, like I found, it is best to retreat from the noise and get a better view of what is really happening, which will eventually result in real productivity. 

 

What are some aspects of the importance of work that men need to hear about today? 

The creation account of man in the Book of Genesis outlines the threefold mission of a man: that he be a provider (till the earth), protector (keep or protect the garden) and priest (God entrusted Adam with commands prior to Eve’s existence) of his family. This masculine threefold responsibility is also reiterated by Jesus in Luke 12 as he outlines the role of the pater familias, the father of the family. 

As men, we are appointed and anointed by God with the role of sacrificial responsibility: to provide for the temporal and spiritual welfare of those souls we are entrusted with. We are commanded to do whatever it takes to ensure that we fulfill that mission of salvation and sanctification.

Work, especially manual labor, is the boot camp or the training ground wherein we increase our capacity for sacrificial responsibility. Work is essential to the masculine soul because it provides him not only compensation for his efforts, but also competence and confidence — a personally owned sense of purpose and structure that necessarily projects into his family and community.

At the center of work is the use of our physical and intellectual gifts to obtain a solution or to achieve a goal, which should always better the lives of those around us.

We sweat, toil, labor and refuse to give up on the mission until the project is completed.

 

What prevents men from achieving this?

These days, men are often stuck in the quicksand of a strange yet highly pervasive effeminacy. We have become soft and comfort-seeking and fear taking calculated risks, especially when we are unsure of our ability to tackle a project or a problem and bring about a desired outcome.

Work is the arena where the boy grows into a man. We are faced with a problem, often a problem that we have not been trained to fix. Nevertheless, that task is put on us to determine a solution. God has designed it this way because, if we learn through patience and perseverance to complete a temporal task, we will learn to labor relentlessly to fulfill our mission: win souls for Christ.

Work affords us the opportunity to embrace failure and grow from it. This is where humility is expanded, which then opens up new horizons. This might be tough to accept initially, but the most successful people in this world are also the biggest failures. The reason they succeeded is because they learned to embrace failure as a means of becoming confident and competent, as indicated in James 1.

I think Winston Churchill said, “Success is going from one failure to another with great enthusiasm.” Another Brit, G.K. Chesterton, said something similar: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

Again, this strikes people as odd, but if you look at sports, you can see the concept live out all over the place. Has Tom Brady ever lost a football game or has Roger Federer ever lost a tennis match? Brady has lost 85 times in the NFL and Federer almost 275 in pro tennis, yet they both keep going.

 

People often say that St. Joseph is not quoted and barely even mentioned in the Bible, but what can we learn about him from the Bible or other sources, such as Venerable Mary of Agreda’s Mystical City of God?

Despite the relatively limited nature of St. Joseph in sacred Scripture, there are many things we can learn, even from the Joseph of the Old Testament. I have friends who love Mystical City of God and other private revelations, but so far I have centered my studies on how public revelation has been seen by the Church Fathers, other saints and popes, and what we can glean through a knowledge of history, linguistics and culture.

Sacred Scripture describes St. Joseph as a carpenter. The Greek word in the vernacular is tekton, which means carpenter, architect, builder. St. Joseph was a man who learned to use varied tools in a wide array of challenging situations, for the purpose of developing a solution that aided those around him.

St. Joseph was a man who built things, perhaps his own house, and yet it was not for a mere human or temporal purpose. He was a carpenter who, with God’s aid, built the Holy Family into the first domestic church.

As grace builds upon nature and perfects it, so also God built upon St. Joseph’s competence and confidence in his manual labors to afford him the competence and confidence to be a great husband, father and spiritual leader. 

 

Could you talk about your books? 

Over the last 10 years I have written over 20 books on spiritual fatherhood, including Joseph’s Way: The Call to Fatherly Greatness, Custos: Total Consecration Through St. Joseph, The Meaning and Mystery of Man, The Power of St. Joseph: Five Reasons Why He Is Terror of Demons and How You Can Be One Too; and the latest release: Jesus’ Way: The 46-Day Lenten Journey to Be Unconquerable in Christ

These resources give men a practical road map to become spiritual fathers, real men who, with God’s grace, can become sacrificial leaders. There exist many men who are boys trapped in men’s bodies. Our goal is to help them in the process to move from boyhood to manhood, from the son who runs to the son who sacrifices.

 

Devin Schadt appeared on ‘EWTN Bookmark’ last year.
Devin Schadt appeared on ‘EWTN Bookmark’ last year.

 

 

Closing thoughts around this time of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker?

Society goes by way of the family, and the family goes by way of the father. Therefore, if we want to change the world for the better, we fathers must become more like St. Joseph, the best human father ever. This means humbly, responsibly, diligently and intelligently laboring for the betterment of our families and our own communities. In this organic or subsidiarity-respecting paradigm, we make the most with what we have right in front of us, letting go of things beyond our control. If enough men do this same thing in their families and communities, it all adds up to a much better world on the right track back to God the Father.

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.

His book Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015)
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.

His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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