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My Dad, the Worker, Like St. Joseph

By Nick Digiovanni, a Parishioner at St. Raphael Parish, Naperville

My Dad, the Worker, Like St. Joseph

It’s been a little bit over a year since my dad, Cosimo DiGiovanni, died. The date that he passed, May 1, was the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, which was a fitting day for him to leave this Earthly home and be in heaven.

Did you know that the feast days of saints are traditionally the days that the person died and was born into eternal life? In my recent Bible study, Father Ladislas Orsy, S.J., formerly a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America School of Canon Law, wrote the following about death: “This is the moment for which I have been secretly waiting during my whole life.” 

Paraphrasing, he writes that the moment when we meet Him was planned by God billions of years ago. God sent His Son into the world to suffer, die, resurrect and ascend into heaven so that He could be there to greet us in death. That’s what we should remember on this anniversary.

St. Joseph’s Day is March 19, so why the celebration on May 1? In 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted this day to offset May Day in the communist world. This was a day to commemorate the good, solemn, Christian workers that my dad was. 

St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers, and this is the year that Pope Francis has dedicated to him. My children have become good workers. They all have chosen good, honest work, and I hope they will always continue to do their best and offer it up to God. 

My dad was a great example to all of us. He worked hard and did extra jobs to make money to raise me and my siblings and send us to Catholic school. My Mom did not have to work at first but did so when I entered grade school. 

My Dad taught himself how to do the jobs he did — all of them: electrical, plumbing, carpentry, car mechanic and more. He did not have Google or a father to teach him. My grandpa was not around much; he cut hair and that’s about it. 

But my dad was a role model to all of us and showed us how to do things and to do your best. He was a self-taught man. He was the type of man who could be given anything that was broken, and he would fix it. 

My dad built his dream house in Indiana. He designed it himself and had someone put up the foundation, shell and roof. He basically built the rest himself on weekends and vacation days. That’s where I learned a lot of my “labor skills,” by watching him. 

And although dad maybe didn’t keep the Sabbath the holiest because he worked, he always made sure we went to Mass on Sunday. Even on vacations we would drive for miles to find the closest Catholic Church. I think he offered his work up to God on Sundays. And he always made sure that no matter the job, we would eat together as a family on Sunday, although this rule might be bent depending on where the family was on his return trips from Indiana. 

In thinking about Jesus’ relationship with his stepfather, I thought that He must have watched Joseph work as He was growing up, and St. Joseph must have been a good worker. He provided for Mary and Jesus, and he taught Jesus. 

No doubt Jesus was a laborer too. He didn’t start His ministry until He was 30. He had to work before then, and He probably worked while He was preaching, at least initially. The Chosen, a TV series based on the true stories of the Gospels, shows Jesus working as a good woodworker, and I imagine He was. Can you imagine the work He must’ve done? And can you imagine if you knew who was doing the work back then? 

I am again thankful for the example of my dad as a good worker, someone who loved his family and someone who especially loved God. 

I want to share the story of my first Communion after my dad died, as this is the way I can try to connect with him, and you can too.

A while back, when we attended St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Naperville, a parishioner there said he had a vision while going up for Holy Communion that behind the priest were scores of people singing and praying as the priest gave out the hosts. He later shared this vision with the priest, who reminded him that we profess our belief in the communion of saints in the Apostles’ Creed.

He said that in the Mass, and especially at Communion, heaven and Earth are one. The veil is removed at that moment, and that this vision may well be the saints and angels rejoicing and uniting with us at Communion. I recently read Scott Hahn's book The Lamb's Supper, in which he talks about the concept of the Mass being heaven on Earth.

When my father died on May 1, 2020, I couldn’t go to church because of COVID-19 restrictions. I recently eagerly awaited to receive Communion for the first time since his death. When I received the Eucharist on the Monday in June after the daily 8:30 a.m. Mass was reinstated, I had tears in my eyes. I thought about my dad and even prayed to him.

I didn’t exactly feel a connection, but the church bells were ringing. This seemed miraculous and made it more emotional with more tears. Then I found out the bells always ring at 9 a.m. But for me it was very emotional. I know that I was encountering and connecting with Jesus, and hopefully my dad, and the bells tolled to mark this special occasion.

I know that you can still watch Mass on Zoom these days, and if you do, great, but I hope that you return to receive Communion again and connect with the universal Church and my dad and all the saints in heaven and remember the Feast of Workers.