St. Joseph Oratory revives decades-old tradition, introducing young and old to ancient devotion to Jesus' foster father

DETROIT — Cars were stopped, people began staring and cellphones were pulled out to snap a quick pic, as it was St. Joseph who had the right-of-way on Gratiot Avenue during rush hour traffic March 19.

Parishioners and visitors alike from St. Joseph Oratory were carrying a statue of their patron and accompanying banners as they began their annual procession from the near east-side church to Eastern Market for the annual St. Joseph Day procession.

With St. Joseph vicar Canon Adrian Sequeira, ICRSS, leading the procession and parish pastor Canon Michael Stein, ICRSS, chanting the rosary, the parish community made its way down Gratiot and Russell to Shed 2 of Eastern Market.

Escorted by members of the Detroit Police Department, the parish community placed the statue of St. Joseph in a shed where workers have sold their goods for more than a hundred years, but on Tuesday evening, people prayed their devotions to the saint who is the patron of workers, fathers and the Holy Family.

“God always provides the saints for what the times need,” Canon Stein told Detroit Catholic, “whether it is those who are alive in this world who are meant to sanctify the world we are living in, or the saints in heaven, who are brought to the forefront with their powerful intercessions. We live in a day when there is a visible crisis of fatherhood and family life, because we live in a day of vices on two opposite ends of the spectrum, whether it is sloth or workaholics. So, we fly to St. Joseph as the model for workers, the model for fatherhood, to show us there is virtue in work, there is virtue in fatherhood.”

A Franciscan Friar of the Holy Spirit holds a relic of St. Joseph before the procession at St. Joseph Oratory. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

In 2016, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest took charge of St. Joseph by invitation of Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron to establish an oratory in order to restore sacramental life to the parish.

Since the oratory’s establishment, the institute has celebrated daily Mass and devotions at the parish and began an ambitious $2.5 million capital improvement program. The St. Joseph’s Day procession is another outward example of reviving Catholic life in the Eastern Market area.

“This is my parish; this is what we do,” said Daniel Egan after the procession. “This is a perennial St. Joseph Day tradition. St. Joseph Parish has been here for almost 150 years, so this isn’t new to this area. Maybe it fell out of practice for the last 30, 40 years, but we are showing we are Catholic, as we are called to. 

“As Catholics, we’re told to live our faith in season and out of season, in the public square and in private, and that includes the city streets,” Egan continued. “If we’re not Catholic out there, we are truly failing to be authentically Christian.” 

The procession was part of a full schedule of events at the parish, including Masses in the morning, noon and evening, confessions all day, a guided church tour, an Italian dinner and an organ recital.

St. Joseph Oratory is striving to make the parish an archdiocesan hub of pilgrimage to St. Joseph, opening its doors to parishioners and guests alike to celebrate the patron saint of the church.

Peter Schous of St. Stephen Parish in New Boston and his wife, Peggy, made it to the noon Mass at St. Joseph Oratory, and afterward partook in the traditional St. Joseph’s Day bread.

“Today is a special day because we honor St. Joseph,” Schous said. “I pray to him every day; he is the third most important person in a row from God. It is especially the Mass for me that I enjoy, I really like the traditional Latin Mass.

Altar servers process with St. Joseph Oratory parishioners in Eastern Market in Detroit. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

“I pray to St. Joseph every day, the father of the family,” Schous continued. “We have 14 grandchildren, three children, and we need his help. We can all learn from St. Joseph to be a hard worker, to support one's wife and family.”

With people in and out of the parish for most of the day, St. Joseph parishioners were on call as volunteer ushers, cooks and hostesses for the Italian dinner.

The feast day was an opportunity for parishioners to welcome guests and show hospitality.

“I really enjoy seeing new people come here,” said parishioner and volunteer John Howting. “You have a wide variety of people, a lot of working-class people coming here, and as Canon Stein said, every Wednesday we have the noon Mass for the worker, where we say the devotion to St. Joseph the Worker, and it is a great thing to say if you are trying to discern your vocation or if you’re currently in a job that you are having some doubts about. Saying that devotion just helps you in your discernment.”

Howting added he was new to the traditional Latin Mass, but has said he found a new sense of spirituality and holiness because of it, and he appreciates the parish offering confessions all throughout the day.

“The availability of the sacrament of reconciliation before every single Mass is just wonderful, and I think if more parishes offered confessions more often, they’d be surprised how many people would show up to go to confession,” Howting said. “And the liturgy is so compelling. I’m relatively new to traditional liturgy, but I love the extraordinary form. It’s just absolutely gorgeous, and it is absolutely compelling, and I think it makes me yearn for the Eucharist, makes me yearn for holiness all the more.”

Celebrations throughout the archdiocese

Other parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit had celebrations for St. Joseph Day, particularly those with a strong Italian background.

Holy Family Parish in Detroit on Chrysler Drive had its St. Joseph Dinner on March 17 following its Italian-language Mass, and San Francesco Parish in Clinton Township had an Italian dinner following Mass and a children’s play about St. Joseph and the Holy Family.

St. Joseph Oratory pastor Canon Michael Stein blesses the bread to be distributed to parishioners for St. Joseph’s Day. (Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

“We do our blessing of the oranges and St. Joseph Day bread; the bread is symbolic of how Joseph was a just and upright man who looks after the poor,” said Lisa Nowc of San Francesco Parish. “In Italy, St. Joseph’s Day is considered Father’s Day. St. Joseph is the patron of Italy, and for the Sicilians he is especially celebrated. There was a famine in Sicily, and when the Sicilians were praying a novena to St. Joseph, a ship with food came and saved Sicily. That really pushed St. Joseph up in prominence in the community. And the Italians love to celebrate, so we pray a novena to him every year and have a celebration.”

Regardless of ethnic background, St. Joseph as the patron of fathers and workers is a model for all, and a procession from St. Joseph Oratory to Eastern Market is a fitting tribute for the man who provided for the Holy Family, said Mark Nemecek of SS. Peter and Paul (Westside) Parish in Detroit.

Canon Michael Stein offers the relic of St. Joseph to be venerated by a worshiper at Shed 2 in Eastern Market on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19.

“Today is the feast of St. Joseph, who is revered as a provider, a breadwinner,” Nemecek said. “So, it is appropriate to go to Eastern Market, a place where people frequently go for food, to bring St. Joseph, the patron of workers, who is revered as being a provider for the Holy Family. It was fantastic seeing people bringing their faith into the streets. 

“People pass by the church every single day,” Nemecek continued. “But the doors are open all day, every day. For the people who never go inside, who don’t come to Jesus, we bring Jesus to them. We bring him out into the streets, where the people are.”


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