North American Sanctity: St. Joseph, Patron Saint of Canada

Canada houses the world’s largest and most renowned shrine dedicated to St. Joseph: Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal (above), located in Montréal in Quebec.

In his memoir, 400 years ago, on March 19, 1624, Fr. Joseph Le Caron recorded, “We held a great solemnity where all the inhabitants and several Amerindians were present, by a vow we made to St. Joseph, whom we chose as our patron saint of the country and protector of this newborn church.”

By Kimberly Bruce

Did you know that St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patron of the Universal Church, and Patron Saint of the Marian Congregation (feast day March 19), is also the Patron Saint of Canada?

Canada also houses the world’s largest and most renowned shrine dedicated to St. Joseph: Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, located in Montréal in Quebec.

Oh, Canada!
Long before his official declaration as Patron of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX in 1870, Canada was already consecrated to St. Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of Jesus.

As far back as 1615, a priest by the name of Fr. Joseph Le Caron began invoking St. Joseph’s intercession upon his arrival to serve as a missionary in the land we now call Canada. Father Le Caron celebrated Mass the first time for the natives of Huronia (present-day southern Ontario), on Aug. 12, 1615.

In his memoir, 400 years ago, on March 19, 1624, Fr. Le Caron recorded, “We held a great solemnity where all the inhabitants and several Amerindians were present, by a vow we made to St. Joseph, whom we chose as our patron saint of the country and protector of this newborn church.”

A little more than a decade later, in 1637, Pope Urban VIII granted a plenary indulgence to anyone who kept the solemnity of the Feast of St. Joseph.

In 1834, Pope Gregory XVI approved Fr. Le Caron’s vow, officially recognizing St. Joseph as the Patron Saint of Canada.

Visions
Two nuns were given prophetic visons concerning St. Joseph and the nation of Canada, as well. The first was St. Mary of the Incarnation (1599-1672), an Ursuline sister canonized in 2014 by Pope Francis; she lived amongst the Huron and Algonquin peoples as a missionary. Saint Mary saw St. Joseph as “the guardian of this place” — the “great country,” which became Canada.

The second was Bl. Catherine of St. Augustine (1632-1668), an Augustinian nun beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1989, and another Canadian missionary. Blessed Catherine said, “in different circumstances of her life,” she had “seen St. Joseph and heard from him the affirmation that God had constituted him father, guardian and defender of the country of Canada.”

Brother André 
Another very important saint, particularly to Canadians, is St. André Bessette, a lay brother of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. “Brother André,” as he is affectionately known, was a great devotee of St. Joseph.

In 1904, Brother André was authorized to build a small chapel in honor of St. Joseph on Mount Royal in Montréal within Quebec.

Quickly outgrowing its size in 10 short years, the present St. Joseph’s Oratory was then commissioned to be built.

Taking 50 years in total to complete, the Oratory was raised to the status of a minor basilica during construction on St. Joseph’s Feast in 1955.

Rising 232.5 meters above sea level, the Oratory is the only structure allowed to rise higher than Mount Royal, situated 30 feet below. It is the largest church in all of Canada, and one of the 50 tallest structures on earth.

A father to us all
Why is St. Joseph celebrated on March 19? Some oral traditions hold that St. Joseph died on this date, though the date is still debated.

As Catholics, we are encouraged to call upon St. Joseph’s prayerful intercession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church even tells us, particularly at life’s end, “to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death” (CCC, 1014).

Saint Faustina was visited by St. Joseph several times, as mentioned in her Diary. Usually, he came accompanying the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus. However, there was one instance when she records him speaking with her. She said:

Saint Joseph urged me to have a constant devotion to him. He himself told me to recite three prayers [the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be] and the Memorare [to St. Joseph] once every day. He looked at me with great kindness and gave me to know how much he is supporting this work [of mercy]. He has promised me this special help and protection. I recite the requested prayers every day and feel his special protection (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1203).

Said Pope Bl. Pius IX, “the Church has always most highly honored and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God, and has besought his intercession in times of trouble.”

In his apostolic letter Patris Corde, Pope Francis said:

Each of us can discover in Joseph … an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation … . The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, “at the service of the entire plan of salvation."

We must especially call upon St. Joseph’s intercessory power for our nations. In those countries with a special devotion and patronage to St. Joseph — including Canada — he awaits the prayers of its inhabitants, in good times and in bad, to direct the consciences of its people and leaders to essential truths, and helps to spread the Kingdom of God on earth.

May Canada, the United States, and all countries avail themselves of the special help, protection, and blessings that prayers said through the intercession of St. Joseph can provide us.

Saint Joseph, Patron Saint of Canada and Universal Patron of the Church, pray for us!

Photo by Bohao Zhao/Wikicommons.

Next in the series: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, April 17.
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