Honoring the Year of St. Joseph, SJC President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., interviewed acclaimed author and SJC board Trustee S. Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., Ph.D., during a virtual event about the College’s namesake last week.
There isn’t a lot of information available about who he is, said Dr. Boomgaarden, who acknowledged that he changed his favorite saint to St. Joseph — from St. Ignatius — upon taking helm as College president in 2017.
“I enjoyed my personal journey in getting to know St. Joseph better,” Dr. Boomgaarden said during the March 16 event. “I think it’s through this kind of approach that we can gain so much understanding of our faith and our relationship with God by looking at these great figures.”
Pope Francis proclaimed 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph in December, highlighting the saint’s core values of serving his community, protecting his family, living a life of integrity, and being a hard worker. In recognition of the Year of St. Joseph, the College community is taking an in-depth look at St. Joseph and his legacy.
Discovering St. Joseph
Dr. Boomgaarden helped the SJC community get to know St. Joseph better during the event — titled “Discovering St. Joseph” — by interviewing S. Elizabeth.
S. Elizabeth is a Professor Emeritus of Fordham. The National Catholic Reporter has called her “one of the country’s most prominent theologians.” She is the author of many acclaimed books, the recipient of 15 honorary doctorates, and a former president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society.
Throughout the event, Dr. Boomgaarden and S. Elizabeth discussed the gospels that reference St. Joseph, what he was like as a carpenter and a family man, his impact on Jesus and his personality.
“The main historical sources where we first hear about him are the four gospels — Mark being the first, and then Matthew, Luke, and then John,” S. Elizabeth said.
She read an excerpt from the Gospel of Mark, which described Jesus as “the carpenter, the son of Mary.”
“Many people suspect from that statement, that by then, by the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, that Joseph had died,” S. Elizabeth explained. “Normally, it would say the father’s name and not the mother.
“But Matthew, writing 20 years later, the same scene, his version of it says, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom from and is this not the carpenter’s son?'” she continued. “So there’s the first clue about Joseph — that was his profession.”
Saint’s Eternal Impact on St. Joseph’s College
S. Elizabeth described St. Joseph as a man of integrity, who was kind and responsible, and who had a fierce dedication to his spirituality. Scriptures suggest his values had a profound impact on Jesus, she said.
“(Pope Francis) puts the whole thing in the context of the pandemic,” S. Elizabeth said. “He does this beautifully. The letter he wrote, starting the Year of Joseph, is in English entitled ‘With a Father’s Heart.’
“He says Joseph is a man who goes unnoticed, but is a support and a guide in times of trouble. After one year of the pandemic, we know our lives are sustained by ordinary people, often overlooked,” she continued, quoting the pope’s letter. “People who do not appear in headlines or on TV. Healthcare workers, storekeepers, supermarket workers … priests, volunteers, men and women religious, and so many others. St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden, or in the shadows, play an incomparable role in supporting our lives.”
St. Joseph helped others quietly — just as the many SJC students and alumni did when they stepped up to help their communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the Sisters of St. Joseph did when they established the College over a century ago.
“I certainly experience (Joseph) in my work every day with the Sisters and my work here at the College — the magnificent modeling of St. Joseph’s behavior in them and the tremendous dedication to learning and education,” Dr. Boomgaarden said.