Newly-restored St. Joseph statue ‘part of an inheritance’

Mike Spreckelson, left, and Brian Weberding, craftsmen from the Weberding Carving Shop rolled the statue of St. Joseph through the gates at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 455 S. Fifth St., March 11. Weberding Carving Shop, Batesville, Ind., restored the statue which dates back to 1854. It will be blessed March 19 at the cathedral. Tim Tomes, archivist for the Archdiocese of Louisville, looked on. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Catholics look to St. Joseph and the other saints in order to “grow in holiness,” said Father Martin Linebach, rector of the Cathedral of the Assumption. A newly-restored 167-year-old statue of St. Joseph, patron of the Archdiocese of Louisville, will be unveiled and blessed March 19 at the cathedral.

The Archdiocese of Louisville was placed under the patronage of St. Joseph by Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget, our founding bishop more than 200 years ago.

A newly-restored statue of the patron saint will soon grace the Cathedral of the Assumption once again, providing a visible reminder of the saint’s presence and protection as patron of the Archdiocese of louisville.

The 167-year-old figure will be unveiled and blessed March 19, the saint’s feast day, during a day of prayer in honor of the “Year of St. Joseph,” proclaimed by Pope Francis on Dec. 8.

Father Martin Linebach, rector of the Cathedral of the Assumption, said having the statue of St. Joseph restored to the cathedral is “part of an inheritance.”

The statue of St. Joseph is seen in this file photo as Bishop John A. Floersh ordained a group of men to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Assumption May 18, 1940. The statue stood in the upper right hand corner elevated above the altar just a few feet from where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stood. (Photo Special to The Record)

The cathedral is the original home of the statue, which dates to 1854. It is believed to have been commissioned locally by Bishop Martin John Spalding — the second leader of the Archdiocese of Louisville. It decorated the cathedral which was dedicated in 1852, said Tim Tomes, archivist for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

It stands about five feet tall and depicts St. Joseph holding a staff of white lilies, a symbol of integrity. The white lilies also represent the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Joseph is typically depicted as a younger man caring for Jesus, noted Tomes. This statue depicts him “later in life.”

“I’ve reached out to colleagues in other dioceses and no one has a statue like this one,” he said in a recent interview, noting that archival records indicate it’s the only statue of St. Joseph that has been used in the cathedral.

The statue was removed during the 1970s when the cathedral was renovated. Several moves later caused the statue to be heavily damaged, but Tomes said he always hoped it would be restored. “Its place in the cathedral’s history was worth a restoration effort,” he said.

The statue of St. Joseph is seen in this file photo of the ordination to Auxiliary Bishop of Charles G. Maloney Feb. 2, 1955. The statue stood in the upper right hand corner elevated above the altar just a few feet from where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stood. (Photo Special to The Record)

Last fall, it was sent to Weberding Carving Shop in Batesville, Ind., to be restored. Craftsman Brian Weberding spent about 60 hours on the restoration. The wooden structure holding the statue together was rebuilt, as was the base it stands on. The broken pieces were glued on and the statue was sanded and smoothed, said Weberding.

Crumbling sheets of newspaper filled its interior — newsprint in German and English dated 1854 from the Louisville Daily Courier and the Louisville Daily Democrat. Tomes said the newsprint suggests the statue was likely made locally, which is “quite unique.”

The pages of newsprint were replaced with a resin, said Weberding.

The statue is made of a gray plaster, so the work was completed by painting the figure and adding gold leaf to its garments.

Father Linebach said it’s important to have a statue of St. Joseph in the cathedral because he is the patron of the archdiocese. Even before the Year of St. Joseph was declared, he had started inquiries about obtaining a statue of St. Joseph for the Cathedral last summer.

A close up of the statue of St. Joseph from an undated photograph. The statue stood in the upper right hand corner elevated above the altar. (Photo Special to The Record)

That’s when he discovered the cathedral had an original statue, he said.

He reflected on the story in the book of Genesis where God gives Abraham land and a “place of inheritance,” he said in a recent interview. “Having the statue of St. Joseph back is part of an inheritance. We’ve been given this place; this cathedral as a gift from God. There’s a great reverence for our past and history.”

The patronage of St. Joseph reaches back more than two centuries into the history of the archdiocese.

Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget — who, in 1808, was named bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Bardstown — had a strong devotion to St. Joseph, often asking for the saint’s intercession, said Tomes.

Tomes noted that on St. Joseph’s feast day in 1812, an entry in Bishop Flaget’s diary says, “St. Joseph, my patron, pray for all the friends who have thought of me.”

Due to his devotion to the saint, Bishop Flaget placed the Diocese of Bardstown — which became the Archdiocese of Louisville — under the protection of St. Joseph, said Tomes.

Over the years, close to three dozen Catholic parishes, institutions and schools would invoke the protection of St. Joseph, too. Many have closed and others have become part of the neighboring Dioceses of Owensboro and Covington.

In the Archdiocese of Louisville, several institutions remain under the patronage and protection of St. Joseph, he noted:

  • The Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., was dedicated in 1819. Construction started in 1816 and the portico and 140-foot steeple were completed in 1826, according to records from the Office of Archives.
  • St. Joseph School in Bardstown, part of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral faith community, opened in 1953. It was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2017. The old St. Joseph Preparatory School, operated by the Xaverian Brothers, educated students from 1911 to 1968.
  • St. Joseph Cemetery in Bardstown, established in 1802, is also a part of the Basilica community.
  • St. Joseph Church in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood was established in 1866 to serve German-speaking families who worked in the slaughterhouses and butcher shops in the area. Its school closed in 2003. The parish continues to serve the area as well as a growing Hispanic community.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor St. Joseph Home for the Aged, located at 15 Audubon Plaza Drive, opened in 1991, but the sisters have been serving the elderly poor in the Archdiocese of Louisville for more than 150 years, starting with their first home here, which opened in 1869.
  • St. Joseph Children’s Home was established in 1849 by a group of German-American Catholics to care for children who’d been orphaned due to the Louisville cholera epidemic of 1832. The Ursuline Sisters of Louisville became administrators and operated the home between 1897 and 1972. The home, located on Frankfort Avenue, continues its mission to serve children.

Father Linebach points to the Gospel to describe St. Joseph’s qualities.

“Go back to the Gospel and especially around Christmastime, his obedience to the will of God. He did what God asked him without fear,” said Father Linebach. “He’s a great protector of his family. He provided for the Blessed Mother and for Jesus as a young boy in humble and noble ways.”

Catholics look to St. Joseph and the other saints in order to “grow in holiness,” said Father Linebach.

“That’s what the lives of the saints in the Catholic Church do for us. That’s why it is so important to have that visible reminder,” he said.

The statue of St. Joseph will be placed in a “devotional area” near the front of the cathedral, so that it can be easily seen, said Father Linebach. “People will want to make a pilgrimage to come and pray,” he said.

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