St. Joseph’s Table celebrates Our Lord’s foster father

The beautifully decorated St. Joseph Table at St. Ann’s Parish was blessed March 17 by well-loved former pastor, Msgr. Bill Caldwell. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

EXCELSIOR SPRINGS — The parish hall of St. Ann’s Church was comfortably full of people on March 17. Parishioners and members of several nearby non-Catholic Christian churches gathered to celebrate, no, not St. Patrick’s Day, although the “wearin’ of the green” was seen on many there. St. Ann’s was celebrating St. Joseph’s Day a bit early. The centerpiece of the celebration was the annual St. Joseph’s Table.

What is a St. Joseph’s Table? St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is the patron of many Christian institutions, including the Universal Catholic Church. As such he is revered, prayed to and celebrated around the world every March 19.

Some of the traditions associated with St. Joseph include lilies, Masses in his honor and, beginning in the Middle Ages, a unique tradition stemming from a Medieval drought in Sicily.

The drought was severe — no rain fell for months, crops didn’t germinate or died, and the resulting famine killed many. The peasants prayed to God for rain, and to St. Joseph to intercede with God. They promised God that if he caused it to rain and save them, they would prepare a special feast in honor of both God and St. Joseph.

The rains came. Crops were re-planted and thrived, and when they were harvested the grateful peasants prepared a feast that became known as the Tavola de San Giuseppe, St. Joseph’s Table.

The Table was decorated with flowers, statues of St. Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus, candles and a feast. The feast was prepared with foods from the harvest, fresh fruits and vegetables, pastas, breads, cakes and cookies from wheat. No meat was served as St. Joseph’s feast day was a Lenten Feast. Communities near the sea served fresh fish.

Centuries passed, with the St. Joseph’s Table celebrated most years and when Sicilians migrated to other lands, they brought the tradition with them.

St. Ann’s Parish was founded in 1889, as part of a push to attract visitors to the mineral springs near the town. The current church is the third built to serve the parish in its 129-year history.

Newcomers from Sicily and mainland Italy were settling in the Kansas City area, and the St. Joseph celebration came also. For many years, the tables were displayed in homes. It was not too long ago that they were moved to churches and parish halls. St. Ann’s started their celebration of St. Joseph’s Day in 2014.

Parishioner Linda Mayes had read Jesus of Nazareth by then-Pope Benedict XVI several years earlier, which inspired her to want to do more for her parish and community. She began by organizing and facilitating Bible studies, which led to the organization of The Marys service group. A few years later, as the group was growing and expanding, it became The Marthas and the Marys, with the mission to serve others like Martha and serve Jesus like Mary. In 2014, the then-pastoral associate, Chris Sanders, wanted to work on building a stronger community and suggested the service group sponsor a St. Joseph’s Table.

Mayes recalled their first Table with a rueful laugh. “We thought Italian meant Lasagna, she said, and that’s what we served that first year! We learned quickly though, and now we can see connections between the Old and the New Testaments, and between the different people of this parish.”

She said the parish holds potluck dinners every other month or so and “Sundae Sundays” to help pay for the St. Joseph Table.

Many of the breads adorning the Table are formed into symbols of St. Joseph or of Our Lord. Traditional symbols include crowns, crosses, staffs, wheat sheaves, images of St. Joseph, and braids of the Blessed Mother. Since St. Joseph was a carpenter by trade, breadcrumbs and
sesame seeds signify sawdust.

Two of this year’s guests, Norene Randall and Shirley Knipker, members of the nearby Nazarene Church, enjoyed the traditional Spaghetti dinner and were taking cream puffs and cannolis home for later.  The Catholic Key also took home some cannolis, which were molto bene!


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October 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph