St. Joseph’s Day splendor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2014

By Monique Roth

LAPLACE – Mounds of cookies, bowls overflowing with fruit, vases filled with flowers and breads baked as the shapes of several Biblical symbols were all ornately displayed this week at St. Josephs Altar held all around the River Parishes.

The St. Joseph Altar is believed to have originated in Sicily during the Middle Ages. As the legend goes, a long drought and famine caused many Sicilians to die from starvation. People prayed to their patron saint, Joseph, for relief from the famine. When rain came, the people rejoiced and prepared a table with an assortment of foods they harvested.

The tradition began to take local roots in the late 1800s when Sicilian immigrants settled in New Orleans. The altars flourished among the prolific celebrations of Louisiana.

For believers, the annual altar is a way to express gratitude for any sort of fortune in their lives. Because the altars thank St. Joseph for relieving hunger, offerings of food are essential. Cookies, cakes and breads are common decorations for the altars.

Two of the local observances this year took place at the home of Lola Mahler in Vacherie and at St. Joan of Arc in LaPlace.

This is the eighth year that Mahler, along with her family and friends, has hosted the altar in St. James Parish.

Mahler said she has always had a great devotion to St. Joseph and that all of the hard work that goes into preparing the altar is worth it when people come to visit it.

“I just want to give St. Joseph honor and recognition on his special day,” said Mahler.

Mahler’s altar included a huge assortment of baked goods, fruit, wine and other symbolic offerings.

Each guest to the altar was given a gift bag that contained blessed salt and water. Pastor Michael Miceli and Deacon Ricky Oubre of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie blessed the altar and gift bags.

Mahler also gave out cards that explained the various traditions and symbols of the altar. For example, the fig cookies, grapes and olives at the altar represent the orchards of Sicily, while the wine represents the Miracle of Cana, the first recorded miracle of Jesus when water was turned into wine.

This year, more than 550 visited Mahler’s house and money donated at the altar, which is given to the St. James Parish ARC, totaled $3,665.11.

In LaPlace, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church celebrated St. Joseph’s Day with its own altar and special Feeding of the Saints ceremony. It was the first time that the church and school featured the re-enactment of the Bethlehem story.

Students from St. Joan of Arc School were selected to represent Jesus, Mary, Joseph, saints and other Biblical figures at the ceremony.

The ceremony began with the group of children knocking on two doors from outside. At both doors, they were told that there was no room for them to come in. At the third door they knocked on, they were let into the room and led to a dinner table.

At the table, Claude Remondet, the student playing Jesus, opened the ceremony by cutting the bread. Matthew St. Martin, the student playing mJoseph, was served first, and tradition denoted the order in which all of the courses were served.

Sister PierCarla Barone, the religious coordinator at SJA School, explained that with the exception of the pasta, there are always three portions of the same food on each plate, symbolizing the Trinity and Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

At the close of the ceremony, the students were given a symbolic medal and bread to remind them of their participation.