The marriage of Mary and Joseph is depicted in stained glass, one of 10 windows at St. Joseph Church in Omaha that tells the story of St. Joseph’s life and role as head of the Holy Family. MIKE MAY/STAFF


Holy spouse and father: St. Joseph a ‘peerless role model’ for husbands, fathers

Head of the Holy Family has much to teach men of today

As a husband and father of four young children, Bart Zavaletta has a peerless role model.

That silent but indispensable figure – St. Joseph, chaste spouse of the virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus – stands as a model for husbands and fathers at all times, especially during this Year of St. Joseph. The Church celebrates his solemnity March 19.

Zavaletta, a teacher at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School and member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, both in Omaha, looks to the saint as a guide.

“I look up to St. Joseph … as a powerful intercessor, because he’s so close to Jesus and Mary, to help me become a better husband, father, caregiver, provider, worker,” he said. “I hold him pretty close.”

St. Joseph fulfilled the role of father to Jesus in every way but the flesh and as protector of the Holy Family by virtue of his marriage to Mary, said St. Pope John Paul II in his 1989 apostolic exhortation “Redemptoris Custos,” or “Guardian of the Redeemer.”

“The growth of Jesus ‘in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man’ (Lk 2:52) took place within the Holy Family under the eyes of Joseph, who had the important task of ‘raising’ Jesus, that is, feeding, clothing and educating him in the Law and in a trade, in keeping with the duties of a father,” the late pope wrote.

“His fatherhood is expressed concretely ‘in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it ….’”

What little the Scriptures say about St. Joseph shows him responding unquestioningly to God’s will, to fulfill the plan of salvation.

“Together with Mary, Joseph is the first guardian of this divine mystery. Together with Mary, and in relation to Mary, he shares in this final phase of God’s self-revelation in Christ and he does so from the very beginning,” wrote the late pope.


Zavaletta said he received his strong devotion to St. Joseph from his father.

“My father was the first sort of model of St. Joseph to me, both in his devotion and in his care for my mom and my siblings and I … through his faithfulness.”

“So I think St. Joseph is a model for men, as fathers and husbands, primarily as a model of faithfulness.

“He was concerned and preoccupied with (doing) the will of God,” Zavaletta said.

St. Joseph lived out that faithfulness through selfless love and sacrifice, said Father Jeffery Loseke, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gretna.

Bart Zavaletta is pictured with his wife, Erin, and their children, from left, Bailon, 1; Bartolo, 6; Beya, 9; and Bruno, 3. OLIVIER COUTANT

“He teaches us to look to the other,” he said, “and is a reflection of God the Father.”

“St. Joseph’s vocation is … to be the icon of God the Father, … the human face of God the Father, to God the Son. And that is a profound vocation,” Father Loseke said.

“I think men today, especially fathers of families, participate in that same vocation,” he said. “It’s a terrifying vocation because, when you think about it, I have to look like God. It really brings everything into focus.”


Zavaletta said he takes that vocation seriously, and prays to St. Joseph for strength to stand against the evil that would harm his family as the devil works to break up marriages and families.

“I’m more conscious and aware of how I’m being called to be a father, how I’m being called to be a husband,” he said. “Every father’s called to step into the breach and to hold the line against the enemy.

“My prayer and devotion (to St. Joseph) has helped me become more aware of the subtle ways the enemy can breach the line. So St. Joseph helps me regroup. He helps me recognize the ways the enemy is perhaps trying to pull us apart.”

One of the ways Satan is attacking the family is by diminishing the father’s role, said Father Loseke.

“We’ve seen in our culture what has happened in the great absence of fatherhood, when men don’t step up to their responsibility, abandoning their families, or when they are distant to their families,” he said. “It’s not so much in what a father says. It really is in his presence and in his engagement in the family.”

And this is especially true concerning the faith of one’s children.

“There have been countless studies that have demonstrated that … the spiritual practice of the children, especially when they become adults, is affected most by the spiritual practices of their fathers,” said Father Loseke. “It really is that image of father that seems to have the greatest effect on the spiritual growth and life of a child.”


St. Joseph also has something to teach men today concerning personal virtue and chastity.

Since St. Joseph recognizes that Mary belongs to God in a very special way as the ever virgin mother of God’s son, “he knows he is not called to conceive a child with Mary,” Father Loseke said.

“So he expresses his love to her in so many other ways,” he said. “I think husbands and fathers can learn from that and see there are so many other ways, especially in those times when a child is not to be conceived, that I (can) love my spouse perfectly.”

“This would relate to what many married couples experience, particularly when we talk about natural family planning and the cycles of fertility, where Joseph becomes a real model,” Father Loseke said.

Zavaletta also recognizes St. Joseph as a model of chastity and purity – key virtues a man needs to be a successful husband and father.

“Jesus tells us that virtue comes from the heart,” he said. “So recognizing the ways I’m called to cultivate a virtuous heart and mind, it starts in the heart and filters into the mind, (asking) how am I thinking? What am I thinking?

“What are my desires? Am I recognizing the good ones … the bad ones? Am I owning the times I have fallen and given in to my base desires and gone to confession?”

“I ask St. Joseph to help me in this area of purity, and thanks be to God, he has.”

For more coverage on Bart Zabaletta’s witness of St. Joseph and his intercession, see this link.

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