Saint Joseph, 24/7

Brother Fred Wells, MIC, Shares His Thoughts on that 'Ordinary Guy' Who Became an Extraordinary Saint

It's no wonder so many people turn to St. Joseph in times of need.

It was St. Joseph to whom God the Father entrusted the protection of His only Begotten Son. Despite what this responsibility entailed for him — nothing less than the radical redirection of his life — St. Joseph responded with faith to become the protector and guardian of the Holy Family.

Brother Fred Wells, MIC, has had a spiritual relationship with St. Joseph for as long as he can remember. Indeed, "Joseph" was his Confirmation name. But it wasn't until 1998, when his own life took a radical turn that St. Joseph became his powerful patron "24/7," he says.

As we prepare to celebrate St. Joseph's feast day on March 19, Br. Fred shares his thoughts on this common carpenter from Nazareth who became the Patron of the Universal Church:

What happened to you in the fall of 1998?
I went to have my gall bladder removed, and the doctor came in and told me, "I'm sorry, but your gall bladder is cancerous. It's malignant." I prayed to St. Joseph because I have always admired the work he did for Jesus and Mary — the way he took care of them. I know he cares for all of us. So I prayed to him not to cure my cancer, but to let me not worry about it. It worked! I never lost any sleep over it. I went from chemotherapy to radiation. Then in 2002, they found a malignancy in my prostate. I went for radiation again, and we haven't heard from the cancer since.

I didn't worry the whole way through. That was a beautiful thing that St. Joseph did for me.

It's funny, because just a few months before I was diagnosed with cancer, my Superior told me that I was going to be transferred from Stockbridge, Mass. I was to leave in two weeks. I really didn't want to leave. So immediately I went over to the gift shop at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and I bought a 12-inch statue of St. Joseph, and I put it in my drawer and prayed to him. Then, in less than a week, the Provincial came back and said, "We changed our minds. You're not going to be transferred." I went right upstairs to the statue and I thanked St. Joseph!

I rely on him 24/7 now. He's a miracle worker. I continually pray to St. Joseph for patience and for understanding. I pray to him for his help whenever I get off track, and I encourage others to do the same.

What can people learn from the life of St. Joseph?

He was this ordinary working guy. At first, he had no clue what God had planned for Him, and that's a good lesson for all of us because none of us know what the future will hold. But St. Joseph saw the Lord's hand in everything. Nothing happens by accident.

Like St. Joseph, we can stand ready to serve Him and even change our plans according to His will. The Lord leads us through these things just as He led St. Joseph.

For instance, you probably didn't expect you'd get cancer.

Right. But when we turn to God in faith, like St. Joseph did, He'll take care of us.

When you see the image of St. Joseph tenderly holding the Christ child, what does that conjure in your mind?

I am edified. He was not the real father of Jesus, and yet he loved that Child so much. He embraced Him and took care of Him. I have a nice statue of the Holy Family in my room — with Joseph hovering over Mary, who's holding Jesus. Joseph has his cloak hanging over them, keeping them warm and protected. That's what he does still today — for all of us.

How can St. Joseph be a source of strength and inspiration for families, in particular?
Oh, he's the tops. Look, anybody can beget a baby. But it takes a man to take responsibility for that child and provide for that child.

I can't help but to think of all the fatherless children nowadays — all the fathers who don't even take care of their own offspring. They desert them. But here's a man, Joseph, who took someone else's child and embraced Him and took care of Him.

Speaking through Ezekiel, God described His work of Redemption with these words: "I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart" (Ez 11:19). That means that the natural heart is good. As children, we start with a good heart, and parents need to take responsibility and nurture this goodness — whether it's St. Joseph for Jesus, or a father or mother for his or her child.

It reminds me: I saw the most beautiful thing the other day. I was watching a football game on TV, and during the halftime, the marching band came out. In the band, there was a boy in a wheelchair. He had been born blind, and his limbs didn't develop properly. But he was playing the trumpet. And his father was pushing him, keeping up with the band. Whenever the band turned right, the father would turn the wheelchair to the right. The father later said that his boy has been an inspiration. "He makes my life complete," he said.

That's beautiful. That's love. That's sacrifice. Saint Joseph must be proud of that father. Like St, Joseph, this father has a heart full of love and self-sacrifice.

Brother Fred Wells, MIC, has spent most of his life as a religious living on Eden Hill, in Stockbridge, Mass., where St. Joseph has been a source of strength and inspiration for the Marian congregation.

What was your father like?
He was a very kind man. He was a carpenter. He had a lot of jobs he did. It was the Great Depression, and he would do anything he could do to earn a living and provide for us. He was a man of all trades. He was a quiet man.

Sounds a little like a certain saint.
That's true. Saint Joseph was never in the forefront. He was a man of prayer, who was a protector and a guardian, and he was a humble servant of God. My Papa was humble, and he preferred to stay in the background. But looking back, I see how he did so many things for me — things out of love — that I never knew he did until later on.

Such as?
Like when I came down Christmas morning, three years old, and saw this beautiful Christmas tree with the train going around it. It was all fenced in. I went into ecstasy. And whom did I thank? I thanked Santa Claus. But that wasn't Santa who did that. That was Papa. He even made the little picket fence. That's just one example. He must have done so many things for me that I was unaware of. He was shy and in the background, but he had a reputation for being a good man.

So you took "Joseph" as your Confirmation name. Why?
I think back then, I didn't know much about all the other saints. But Joseph was right there in the Holy Family. I figured I might as well start in the Big Leagues!

How do you pray to St. Joseph?
I just say his name. That's all. You know a lot of people pray to the Lord and the saints and they give a whole book of instructions on how to do things (laughs). I say St. Joseph's name. He knows what's in my heart. I leave it to him.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of the Marian Helper magazine.