Growing up, every year I looked forward to the St. Joseph’s table during Lent at our church. Those who know me wouldn’t be surprised by the fact that my favorite thing about church is a celebration where you fill a huge table with baked goods and share them with your friends and family! There is no better place to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph than at The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, the spiritual home for Italian Americans in Chicago. At 11 am on Sunday, March 17, Rev. Richard Fragomini will celebrate mass in honor of St. Joseph, and directly following will be the feast. Donations will be accepted in honor of St. Joseph and will be shared with the poor. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii is located at 1224 W. Lexington, in Little Italy. Visit their website and make a donation at www.ourladyofpompeii.org.
For those of you who are not familiar with a St. Joseph’s day table, it is a Sicilian tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. The story goes that a terrible drought had caused widespread famine in Sicily. With hope running out, the faithful began a novena, praying for nine consecutive days to their patron, St. Joseph the Protector. If St. Joseph heard their prayers and the drought came to an end, the people promised to share their plenty with the poor. Their prayers were answered as rain came and ended the drought. At the end of the harvest season, great tables overflowing with food were set out in the piazza and the poor were invited to come and eat their fill. The tradition is continued today by Italians all over the world. A bountiful table is set overflowing with vegetarian foods (because the feast day falls during Lent, a time of fasting). The table usually rises in three tiers representing the Holy Trinity and at the top sits a statue of St. Joseph, holding baby Jesus, with loaves of bread and baskets of food overflowing at his feet. The bounty is enjoyed and then a portion of it is given to those less fortunate, and a collection for the needy is often taken. The crop that was spared by the rains in Sicily all those years ago, was the fava bean. This is a food that is often served at the Festa di San Giusseppe. Because St. Joseph was a carpenter, foods with breadcrumbs, symbolizing sawdust, are also represented on the table. Now that you know what a St. Joseph’s day table is, I’m pretty sure you want to experience one for yourself. You can do that this Sunday at The Shrine!