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St. Joseph and the fatherhood crisis

Surely we can ask the Lord’s foster father to lend us a badly needed hand in seeking solutions to the serious problem of absent fathers.

(Image: Christin Lola/

Launched in December with modest fanfare, the Church’s observance of 2021 as a year to honor the fatherhood of St. Joseph seems to have dropped largely out of sight. True, a plenary indulgence (under the usual conditions) is available to those who practice a devotion to St. Joseph on Wednesdays during the year, but otherwise not much seems to be happening.

And that’s too bad. For although Jesus’ foster father doesn’t need the attention, a rousing defense of fatherhood just now would come in handy.

Why? Because in the United States, as in many other countries, the role of father is in crisis today. And the resulting upsurge of essentially fatherless children is a social calamity. The apostolic letter Patris Corde—With a Father’s Heart—that Pope Francis issued to mark the start of the year of Joseph is largely devotional, but it does speak, briefly but pointedly, of the fatherhood crisis.

“Fathers are not born, but made,” the Pope wrote. “A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child.” And then this punch line: “Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers.”

There are of course some genuine orphans. But the orphans of whom the Pope spoke are those comprising the growing number of kids whose fathers, although alive and well, simply aren’t doing the job.

Numbers suggest the dimensions of the problem in the U.S. As of 2019, there were roughly 16 million American children—about one out of every four—without a father in the home. And while that can happen for a number of reasons, by far the largest reason is family breakdown and the huge rise births out of wedlock.

The nation was first alerted to that problem in 1965 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor and later a U.S. senator, published The Negro Family: The Case for National Action—better known as the Moynihan Report—examining family breakdown among African Americans. Then the rate of out-of-wedlock births among blacks was 25%. Now it is 70%. And now, too, it has shot up among Hispanics (52%) and whites (over 28%).

Nor are Catholics exempt. Years ago, I was surprised to learn that the parochial school two of my grandsons attended (in a well-to-do suburb) had a support group for kids from single-parent homes. I don’t know how many schools offer that today, but surely the need hasn’t diminished.

The consequences of all this are disastrous not just for individuals but for society. How disastrous is suggested by social critic Mary Eberstadt in a disturbing essay in First Things. Citing social science data, she argues that a deadly triad including loss of faith in God (the Father in heaven), declining patriotism (love for the fatherland), and the rising incidence of missing fathers has created a “crisis of paternity” that threatens the nation.

“Life without father, Father, and filial piety toward country,” she writes, aren’t the socially neutral phenomena liberal conventional wisdom would make them out to be, but are instead “depriving many young people—especially young men—of reasons to live as rational and productive citizens” with results visible in an upsurge of social unrest and violence.

A year honoring the fatherhood of St. Joseph won’t solve these problems. But it might at least serve to focus attention on them. And surely we can ask the Lord’s foster father to lend us a badly needed hand in seeking solutions.

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About Russell Shaw 271 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. There is a ton of stuff happening! Dioceses throughout the world have been setting up special events, pilgrimages, conferences, consecrations, crownings, etc. The entire episcopate of the Philippines is consecrating the Philippines to St. Joseph on May 1. In the USA, diocese after diocese have established designated shrines and websites for the year. In fact, the National Shrine of St. Joseph in DePere, WI will have a rededication and crowning of their statue on March 19 with an online conference and wonderful speakers. The Archconfraternity of St. Joseph in the USA is relaunching. EWTN is airing lots of things about St. Joseph. Books are coming out on him, new artwork being done, men’s conference across the country are primarily focused on St. Joseph this year. My book Consecration to St. Joseph has been taken up by countless bishops to be used for their diocese. Indeed, Marian Press has been contacted by no less than 20 countries in order to make immediate translations of the book. Spain, Italy, Poland, Croatia, India, etc, etc, etc, are all doing incredible events for the Year of St. Joseph. The list of all that is happening could go on and on. God bless!

    • Thank you, Fr. Calloway, for your Consecration book and all the work that went into it. We agree that a St. Joseph movement is underway. Husband and I first did it last year since our anniversary is March 19. I was able to inspire several others this year to do this Consecration ending on January 23. While it did not visibly “help” with national crisis so far, we know it will now be our support shield as the Terror of Demons does his thing. The catechesis about St. Joseph was worth everything. Onward!

    • Fr.Calloway,
      At the Parish of the Resurrection in Nashua, NH our Men’s group will be starting our 33 Days in February for our Consecration on the Solemnity of St,. Joseph on March 19th. Our Parrish Book Club will start on a date to be determined and we are working with our pastor Fr. John Grace to offer the program for the Parrish at large sometime during the year. I started my consecration journey on January 1st. Over ten years ago Fr. John’s predecessor, Fr. Steve Marcoux gave me a statue of St. Joseph with the baby Jesus in his arms. They have been welcoming my family and friends and deliver folks every day since. I had never figured out why Fr. Steve gave that statue to me but now it is becoming clear. God has been preparing me for this time. God certainly has patience. Thank you for helping my brothers and sisters at the Parish of the Resurrection and me on our journey to Heaven.
      Your brother in Christ,
      Mark Boegel

  2. A Year of Commemoration Overshadows the Year of St. Joseph – Amoris Laetitia Anniversary

    The orthodox traditional Catholic enjoyed a few days of astonished awe at this pontiff’s declaring a year to St. Joseph, beginning and ending on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

    In a time of rare blessings from the Vatican corner, orthodox traditional Catholics wondered: Could times be a’changin’? Had there been a conversion? Had a miracle happened?

    A few weeks passed. Then came Dec. 27, the feast of the Holy Family. With his usual flair for ambiguity perceived as intended to topple tradition, this pontiff arose with more to say.

    Recalling that March 19 was the anniversary of Amoris laetitia’s signing, this pontiff intoned, “… a year of reflection on Amoris laetitia…an opportunity to focus more closely on the contents of the document.” All this according to the ‘magisterium of Francis.’

    The traditional, orthodox Catholic enjoyed a hope for focus on the justice and the silence of the protector of the family and of the Church. Instead this pontiff chose to honor the memory of Amoris Laetitia’s with a year dedicated to that.

    That’s what happened. Amoris Laetitia will ice the cake of the year of St. Joseph.

  3. The apt title of St.Joseph as ‘terror of demons’ – possibly has roots in him having carried the blessing in the line of David of not falling into self pity , instead being like David in his days as the shepherd who battled the lions and bears , in fidelity to his role .
    Our own Holy Father too , as a devotee to St.Joseph , in trying to lead The Church , armed with the weapons of Love that flows from The Wounds with the power to transform deep wounds in families and nations to become occasions to love The Father , in praise and gratitude and with the love and The Will with which He loves us , as Adam too would have if not for The Fall and being restored to us in The New Adam and Bl.Mother .

    May the Rivers of Love that flowed in the Holy Family reach into the farthest corners to thus help bring forth The Reign of the Will of The Father all around , as would be the desire and prayers of beloved St.Joseph as well .

  4. Hello,

    I just completed a video of my one man play about the life of St. Joseph entitled God’s Son, my son. Father Calloway (author of Consecration to St. Joseph) put it on his fb blog on January 19. 2021. Since it is the year of St. Joseph and his feat day is fast approaching I wanted to share this video with you. I wrote, edited, acted, and composed this and I pray it leads many to a closer love of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

    Here is the link if you want a look.

    Father Calloway gave me a review which he also gave permission to distribute. See below.
    “Great job! Very impressive. Reverent, pious, and theologically accurate. I pray that this reaches many people and brings them to a greater love of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” (Father Donald Calloway’s review of the one man play, God’s Son, my son.)
    Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, a prominent Marian priest, and author of Consecration to Saint Joseph: The Wonders of our Spiritual Father. In this book Father Calloway brings to life the wonders, the power, and the ceaseless love of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church and the Terror of Demons.
    Mike Sacilowski

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