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March 2021

St. Joseph Day Altars At Home


            Growing up in our home, we looked forward to Saint Joseph Day. We were not of the Catholic faith but my mother was an ordained Spiritual Minister of the Gospel. The religious traditions were similar in many ways with those of the Catholic Church. We always enjoyed being a part of the St. Joseph Altar at Blessed St. Martin Divine Spiritual Church in New Orleans.


            In March of 1967, Mom informed us that she was led by the Holy Spirit to host a St. Joseph Altar.  Dad was always very supportive of Mom’s religious choice and any activities within her Faith.  Saint Joseph’s Day was also special to dad because his father, whose name was Joseph, was born on March 19th.  

            We grew up learning to prepare Italian bread, cookies and foods traditionally included on the altar. That first year, we prepared everything ourselves. Mom blessed the altar the night before; and the following morning the priest from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church came and blessed the altar also. Mom extended the invitation to persons in Saint Bernard, Plaquemines, Orleans and Jefferson Parishes in order to demonstrate the spirit of “unity” among religious beliefs. This practice was repeated for each of the 7 years.


            In the years that followed, we received offerings for the altars from our neighbors and friends in anticipation of the feast. Seafood, stuffed artichoke, fruit, cookies, and fruit filled cakes were all a part of the altar. Much of the baking began long before the actual altar. My oldest sister, Zelma, baked large breads in the shape of a crescent, ladder, cross, staff, and palm branch. Her most inspiring contribution was always the cakes she designed, which was the centerpiece of the altar in honor of Saint Joseph.

            There was a hot meal served. We understood that no meat is served at a traditional altar but, Mom’s observance of Saint Joseph Day was carried out under the auspices of the Spiritual faith, so we were permitted to serve meat.  Everyone was offered a seat at the table and special accommodations were made as a sign of respect for those choosing to refuse meat during the meal.


            Each person received a variety of fruit, an array of cookies, a prayer card, a St. Joseph medal, a blessed candle, several blessed Fava beans, and a special piece of bread to be placed in the home freezer for later use. It is believed that the bread provides one solace in bad weather, storms and hurricanes.


            Dad would reconstruct the table each year. It was 20 feet long and 5 feet wide. There were three tiers. A statue of Saint Joseph adorned the top tier. The next tier consisted of eight gold sanctuary candles. The lower level of the altar held two 24 inch pillar candles and two 18 inch pillar candles, along with fruit, flowers, a variety of cookies, stuffed artichokes, and cakes. It was a beautiful sight to behold. We wore clothing of red or gold colors which were representative of Saint Joseph.  Many who attended the altars were blessed with the desires of their heart.


            My mom began in 1969 and ended in 1975.  When she began, she informed us that she would host seven altars. The altars were successful; Mom obeyed the Holy Spirit and we have been immensely blessed.  Growing up we watched our Mom and Dad extend their hands and hearts to those in need. We learned by example how to be a blessing to others. 


            Over the years, I have had Saint Joseph altars at my home, both large and small. And although our family has decreased in size, this year we will still prepare our altar, and enjoy our meal together as we thank God for allowing us to see another Saint Joseph Day. Special thanks to the families who took time to share recipes, prepared dishes and taught us how to prepare new items, for each altar. We thank you for loving us and helping us perpetuate our tradition; honoring our Faith, Family and Fellowman.


Yvonne Richard-Sanchez

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