St. Joseph Altar highlights Sicilian culture, tradition

February 26, 2019

A statue of St. Joseph with the Child Jesus is seen in front of a recent St. Joseph Altar at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Memorial Park in Houston. The St. Joseph Altar is 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 — Parishioners throughout the Archdiocese are celebrating the feast of St. Joseph in March by creating 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 people 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.

On March 10, the Sacred Heart Society of Little York will host their annual St. Joseph Altar at All Saints Catholic Church, located at 215 E. 10th St. in Houston. The event begins with 10:30 a.m. Mass, followed by an altar blessing at 11:45 a.m. and lunch at 12 p.m. The society’s three-tiered altar is covered with decorative baked goods, fruit, religious articles and more. A traditional Sicilian lunch will include pasta and sugo, Italian green beans, mudica, boiled eggs, salad and Sicilian desserts, like Italian fig cookies, biscotti, giuggiulena, and Italian Wedding Rings. Organizers said $9 adult tickets and $4 children admissions, along with donations, will benefit feeding Houston’s poor.

Reaching upwards towards the ceiling, 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. For more information, call 713-816-0001.

Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church’s St. Joseph Altar Society will host its annual St. Joseph Altar and luncheon on March 17 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 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 sale of homemade Italian cookies and other items at its St. Joseph Market. Proceeds benefit Cypress Assistance Ministry. Tickets are $7 for adults and $4 for children. Kids under five eat free.

At St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church, the St. Joseph Altar Guild will host their St. Joseph Altar on March 23. Held at the parish after the 5:15 p.m. Mass, located at 7810 Cypresswood Dr. in Spring, 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 Sicilan dinner includes pasta, hard boiled eggs, green beans, salad and bread. Homemade Italian cookies and cannoli will be available for sale. 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 713-553-1214, or email

Other parishes in the Archdiocese also host St. Joseph Altars in March. Like at the Sacred Heart Society, proceeds from altar sales and donations also benefit the poor.