A stained glass window at St. Joseph Church in Omaha depicts the death of St. Joseph with Jesus and Mary present to comfort him. MIKE MAY/STAFF

Spiritual Life

St. Joseph: Patron saint of a happy death

As this Year of St. Joseph draws to a close on Dec. 8, the Church continues to reflect on the pivotal role of the saint in salvation history and his ongoing patronage of believers.

Although that patronage encompasses a wide swath of people and entities – families, fathers, expectant mothers, travelers, immigrants, craftsmen, engineers, carpenters, workers of all kinds, several countries and the Universal Church – everyone can benefit from St. Joseph’s powerful intercession in his role as the patron of a happy death.

When Pope Francis declared the year of devotion, which began Dec. 8, 2020, he said in his apostolic letter “Patris Corde”: “After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse.”

He goes on to note several aspects of the saint’s patronage declared by previous popes, adding that: “Saint Joseph is universally invoked as the ‘patron of a happy death.’”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death … and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.”

Tradition holds that St. Joseph died sometime before Jesus began his public ministry, evidenced by the fact that, in Scripture, Joseph is not mentioned as being present with the Blessed Mother at the wedding feast of Cana or at Jesus’ crucifixion – times he would likely have been by her side if he were still living.

Many further believe that Joseph died, comforted by the loving presence of Jesus and Mary, hence enjoying a happy death himself.

But what constitutes a happy death?

“It would be that your loved ones are there and that you’re prepared for death and have time to atone and say your goodbyes, … that you’re able to be anointed before your death, that you could have confession and your final Communion,” said Father Michael Keating, associate pastor of St. Michael Parish in South Sioux City.

Like most priests, Father Keating has shared that sacred time with many families throughout the years, and frequently invokes St. Joseph, to whom he has a personal devotion.

He often gives out a holy card with a prayer to St. Joseph (see below).

“I always tell people about St. Joseph as the patron of the dying,” he said, being sensitive to whether the person understands or accepts that they are dying, so as not to alarm.

“It’s important to my ministry to give that final comfort to people and help them not be afraid,” he said, “and to help them be aware of the presence of Christ in their life … and give them that hope that overcomes fear.”

Father Keating encourages all Catholics to pray that prayer to prepare for death and enjoy the benefits of the ministries of the Church when their time comes.

And praying with St. Joseph “we can recognize when we’re dying, or a loved one is dying, that Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary are with them, just like they were with Joseph. It’s very comforting,” he said.

Prayer to St. Joseph for a Happy Death

O Blessed Joseph, you gave your last breath in the loving embrace of Jesus and Mary. When the seal of death shall close my life, come with Jesus and Mary to aid me. Obtain for me this solace for that hour – to die with their holy arms around me. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I commend my soul, living and dying, into your sacred arms. Amen.