St. Joseph Altar celebrations return to continue beloved Sicilian tradition
March 8, 2022
Intricate handmade baked goods are seen in front of a recent St. Joseph Altar at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Memorial Park in Houston. The St. Joseph Altar, a Sicilian tradition that honors the patron saint of the poor, features dozens of baked goods fashioned in Christian shapes like fish, crosses, wreaths and other symbols. (File photo by James Ramos/Herald)
HOUSTON — After a two-year hiatus in the Archdiocese, a centuries-old Italian tradition comes alive once again throughout the region. Parishioners celebrate the feast of St. Joseph in March with elaborate St. Joseph Altars that honor the patron of Sicily and the poor.
The tradition is carried on from Sicily. The story holds that, during the Middle Ages, a famine struck the island of Sicily, who, in turn, sought help from St. Joseph to end their starvation and death, promising a feast in his honor if he did save them.
The famine soon ended, and altars were prepared throughout the island. To honor St. Joseph, the food was given to the poor.
Faithful keep this tradition alive with its recipes, intricate bread plaiting and more, all handed down from generation to generation. The altar is still prepared today in gratitude.
Reaching upwards towards the ceiling, the altars are often multi-tiered delicate constructions. Usually, the altar’s three tiers represent the Holy Trinity, with a statue of St. Joseph on the top tier.
While no meat is ever used in the altar, or the meal, since the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19) is during Lent, dozens of baked breads, cakes and hundreds of treats — many in symbolic Christian shapes like monstrances, chalices, crosses, fish and wreaths — fill the different levels.
On March 12, the St. Joseph Altar Guild at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church, located at 7810 Cypresswood Dr. in Spring, will host their St. Joseph Altar at 6:30 p.m. following the 5:15 p.m. Mass. Father Norbert Maduzia, pastor, will lead the “Tupa Tupa,” a children’s depiction of the Holy Family, alongside some saints, going door-to-door looking for food and shelter before finding the St. Joseph Table. A Sicilian meal will be served, including pasta, hard-boiled eggs, green beans, salad and bread. Homemade Italian cookies and cannoli will be available for sale.
Other activities include a raffle. Admission is free, but donations are accepted, which with proceeds, will benefit the St. Ignatius Outreach Ministry, which helps those in need in the parish and neighboring communities.
For more information or donations, call contact 713-825-4576 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From March 14 to 22, the Daughters of Italian Heritage are set to hold a virtual St. Joseph’s Table fundraiser. During this time, members can support the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Galveston-Houston’s Food Network. To donate, visit www.svdphouston.org/st-josephs-altar.
On March 19, Catholics can also find a day-long, family-friendly festival celebrating St. Joseph at the Dickinson Little Italy Festival of Galveston County. The free event, hosted at the Dickinson City Centre/City Hall (4403 TX-3, Dickinson), begins with a St. Joseph’s Day procession at 9:30 a.m.
The festival features its namesake St. Joseph Altar, an auction, Italian food and drinks, a heritage exhibit, a Little Italy market, live music and entertainment, grape stomping, a spaghetti eating contest, bocce ball tournament, kids’ activities and more. To learn more, visit www.dickinsonlittleitalyfestivalofgalveston county.com, or call 713-594-3641.
Then on March 20, Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church’s St. Joseph Altar Society will host its annual St. Joseph Altar, with a spaghetti luncheon served after the 11 a.m. Mass in the parish hall, located at 11507 Huffmeister Rd. in Houston.
The event features its ornate St. Joseph Altar, a procession of “Little Saints,” a traditional Sicilian lunch, and a baked good sale of homemade Italian cookies and other items. Proceeds benefit Cypress Assistance Ministry. While admission to view the altar is free, meal tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children. Kids under three eat free. To learn more, visit www.ctrcc.com/st-joseph-altar.