Brooke Welty Asks- What’s The Deal With St Joseph’s Novena In Our GMG Community Google Plus Group

Brooke asks-

I’ve been seeing all these posts about a St. Joseph novena. As an unchurched heathen, I’m utterly clueless. On top of that, I’m not Italian so I literally have no idea what any of this is about.

And yes Joey, before you say it, I GOOGLED IT. But Google isn’t very enlightening sometimes. Sure, it gives me dates and tells me who St. Joseph is, and something about “a feast of the rank of double of the first class” (???) but it doesn’t actually explain much.

Is it a women only thing? Most of the pictures I see seem to feature only women.
Why the feast in the first place?
Why do you build a giant altar and make special pasta?
Novena trolley…I’m picturing a trolley car picking up novena-ers. Is that what it is? Like a Christmas Caroller trolley, but in Italian?

Inquiring minds want to know.

My response-

The Novena trolley was organized by Sefathia and the first one I went on was I think 4 years ago.  Cape Ann Transportation CATA offers the trolley up and it picks everyone up at the Fitz Henry Lane House and they make the rounds and go to about 12 different people’s homes who have St Joseph’s Novenas and Altars.  Men and women and children can go on the trolley but it’s mostly women.

The tradition of St Joseph’s Day as I understand it is that it was a day back in Sicily when people would open up their doors to the orphans and feed them and the symbolism in today’s St Joseph’s Day is that you say that your doors are always open to feed those in need.

They pass out three items at each house, an orange, a lemon and a loaf of bread.  The orange symbolizes the sweetness of life, the lemon so you don’t forget the hard times and the bread to say that you’ll never go hungry in that house.  (I could be a little off on any of these things but this is how I understand it all)

The altars are a tradition usually started by a family who wants to pray for a specific thing.

Like say way back in the 50’s a fisherman may have been out at sea and the boat was overdue.  The wife may have started an altar to ask St Joseph to return him to her and she would maintain her altar and pray each St Joseph’s Day.  Or it may have been to pray for a sick person.  Or a host of other reasons.

The women start out saying the Rosary together and then sing Sicilian songs all together.  Usually they have lots of books so you can read along and before long you get the cadence and words and you’re singing right along with them.

Some houses are open to let everyone in, some may keep them more to their family.  Most I believe welcome everyone of any denomination in to celebrate.

This year we saw a huge increase in the number of younger women participating which is nice because for a long while St Joseph’s started to wane off.  It’s great to see so many taking it up again.  It may or may not have had anything to do with the intense coverage we devote to it each year here on GMG but the heavy lifting is done by the families of those who maintain the altars and invite so many guests into their homes.

Most of the men are in the kitchen eating BTW, LOL.

I’m not 100% sure I got everything right but I hope this answers most of your questions.

You should watch +Kim Smith  videos, if a picture tells a thousand words, her videos will tell a million.

Here’s one-

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11 thoughts on “Brooke Welty Asks- What’s The Deal With St Joseph’s Novena In Our GMG Community Google Plus Group

  1. Tremendous response Joey. Thank you so much for including the video Making the Saint Joseph Altar Bread. I have been following GMG’s coverage of Saint Joseph’s Day and novenas, even before I was contributor. For Brooke, going further back in time

    Some notes about the history of the Feast of Saint Joseph ~

    The feast honoring San Giuseppe originated in Sicily. The old Sicilian legend has it that during the late Middle Ages there was a drought, the worse the island had ever known. Where once had grown wheat, fruits, and vegetables, only cracked stalks, withered vines, and barren fields remained. The famine was so great that Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph. At long last rain fell, sending life-giving water. The people of Sicily rejoiced and, to give thanks and show their appreciation to St. Joseph, made offerings of their finest crops, to both honor their patron saint and to feed the orphaned and the poor. They prepared a table laden with an assortment of harvested foods. As time went on the tradition took hold and grew to what it is today. Through Sicilian immigrants this beautiful custom of La Tavola di San Giuseppe came to Gloucester more than a century ago.


  2. Thanks for answering Joey. It is really cool seeing all the coverage and learning about this. But now I can’t get Jerry Seinfelds voice out of my head. “What is the deal with St. Joseph? and the Pasta? ” lol


  3. Thanks for the answers. I’ll give the video a look when I get a chance! Observing these things as an outsider really kind of drives home that I’m not from around here!


      1. It would feel weird to me. I’m not religious, and I’d be that awkward total stranger who stands in the corner not knowing anyone. Though, I have to say that we have a bunch of Sicilian neighbors who invited us over for the Feast of the 7 Fishes and that went pretty well so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.


  4. Brooke. You definitely would not feel weird. Its such a great tradition and a real look back into the devotion and faith of the Sicilian Community. About 5 years ago…I felt the need to become involved again in a novena. I attended the Orlando family novena for 9 days and I have never missed another. Two years ago, I asked Kim Smith to join me at the Orlando altar. With her camera and documentary experience, I just knew she could help me grow this tradition and get more women my age and young women involved. I felt we needed to share it. The kids need to be able to carry on our heritage. Kim and I visited all the Gloucester altars, and she photographed and captured their individual stories of devotion, as I interviewed each family. My family has always participated in the celebrations of the Sicilian culture and there are so many “behind the scenes” stories that people will love to learn about. I personally cannot wait to see the documentary come to life. Last year, I had my own calling and dreamed of having an altar in our home. With the help of my family and friends, it became a reality. This year our Novena was heavily attended and the 9 days just flew past. Its a great tradition for young, old, men, and women. You are always welcome to join us here.


  5. Brooke, Cape Ann is comprised of many people of various origins. Each has their own customs and if one is not familiar with them it is natural to feel a bit left out. As you can see the Sicilian community is welcoming and others are as well. Jump right in!


  6. We might just join in next year. Cultural traditions are pretty novel for me – bear in mind I’m Pennsylvania German. We’re literally the blandest people in the country. Our cultural traditions consist of eating pork and sauerkraut on New Years Day and…well, that’s about it.
    Thanks for all the replies!


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