By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 23, 2017
MARIETTA—St. Joseph is honored at local parishes with richly decorated altars. This year, for the first time, Jesus’ earthly father and the patron of the universal church is being honored at Holy Family Church, Marietta, with a centuries-old tradition: an altar adorned with bread, pastries and citrus.
Parishioner Linda Harrison said she and other parish members wanted to start what they hope will become a tradition of gratitude toward St. Joseph. Harrison is a native of New Orleans, where there is a strong tradition celebrating St. Joseph.
This Marietta parish is one of several parishes that celebrate the feast. St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, and St. Anthony of Padua Church, Atlanta, also decorated St. Joseph altars this year.
The tradition with the altars traces its roots to Sicily when the island once faced a famine. Sicilians prayed to the island’s patron saint. When the hardship lifted grateful believers built the decorative altars to honor him. Immigrants later brought the custom to America, including to New Orleans.
St. Joseph is the patron of workers, travelers, the poor and the dying. His feast day is March 19, but because the date fell on a Sunday this year, it was moved to Monday, March 20. St. Joseph in fact has two feast days. In March, he is celebrated as the husband of Mary. The second feast day is St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.
The altars started in people’s homes but moved to become part of public celebrations at parishes, where they are blessed.
Items commonly found on the altars include fava beans, which are said to have sustained the starving people during the famine; wine to recall Jesus’ miracle at the marriage of Cana; and bread and breadcrumbs, which represent St. Joseph the carpenter and carpentry saw dust. A three-level altar represents the Holy Trinity with a statue of either the Holy Family or St. Joseph on the highest level. Italian cookies are on the altar and then given out to visitors.
Also, because St. Joseph heard the prayers of the people of Sicily, Catholics are encouraged to leave notes of petition and thanksgiving for the saint.
“I want more love and thanksgiving and gratitude. I want to have a day of celebration and I want everyone who sees the altar to have spiritual blessings and prayers answered by St. Joseph,” said Harrison.