Use this lesson to show elementary and middle school students about the life of St. Joseph, the importance of fatherhood, and how we can use his example to help build a culture of life. Spend the first half of class reading the stories from the Bible which feature St. Joseph. After the discussion, choose an activity from the list or complete the suggested craft.
You can adapt this lesson to use in conjunction with St. Joseph’s feast days (St. Joseph, Husband of Mary on March 19 or St. Joseph the Worker on May 1) or to celebrate Father’s Day in June.
Special note to teachers and parents before you share this lesson:
In popular culture, fathers are often depicted fumbling through life unaware of their surroundings and unable to care for their families. These depictions have a huge impact on our young people and can even shape their opinions of fathers in general. For some fathers this impression from society couldn’t be farther from the truth. They work hard all the time to protect and provide. For others this sentiment has given them a pass to be uninvolved or even absent in the lives of their families. Now more than ever the world needs a standard for fatherhood and we believe that standard can be found in St. Joseph. Promoting honor and respect for fathers is an important part of building the culture of life.
Not all children have fathers present in their lives, but the fatherlessness caused by our broken society is not a reason to shy away from this lesson on fatherhood. To build a culture of life, we must continually remind children of God’s perfect plan, even when their lives don’t seem to fit the mold. A lesson on fatherhood for a child without a dad is a good time to reinforce that God is their Father in Heaven and that St. Joseph can be called upon to watch over them. It offers the opportunity to encourage, to support, and to acknowledge the hurt that children may feel when their earthly fathers are absent.
In this lesson, students will learn about why we honor St. Joseph, the foster father of our Lord Jesus, as the guardian of the Church. They will also learn the important role fathers play in our lives and why we should turn to St. Joseph’s intercession to help save preborn babies and build a culture of life.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
Redemptoris Custos: On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church by Saint John Paul II
Read each story aloud to the students and use the discussion questions provided to engage them.
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
St. Joseph is known as “the silent saint” because we never hear his spoken word in any of the Bible stories. We only get to see what actions he performs, but we know he obeys the will of God and protects the Holy Family. His silent obedience to God’s will in his life is an inspiration and an example of humility.
To be humble means we recognize our own smallness and put God and others above ourselves. We let others shine. That’s exactly what St. Joseph did. Even before he married Mary he displayed humility by putting her needs ahead of his own and by obeying God without question.
When St. Joseph found out that his betrothed wife was pregnant, he was afraid, but he trusted God. Joseph is called a righteous man because he focused on living out God’s law and wanted to live his life as an example to others. Because of his willingness to follow God’s plan, Joseph immediately obeyed God’s request that he take Mary into his home and care for her and Jesus. Joseph could have chosen to ignore God’s plan and take the “safe way out” of this difficult situation (leaving Mary and Baby Jesus on their own), but instead, he took a leap of faith and trusted in God that everything would be all right.
What does it mean to be obedient?
St. Joseph was obedient to God, meaning that he responded immediately to God’s call and did not follow his own desires. When we do what our parents ask, we should be prompt like St. Joseph and not hesitate to do good things, even if those tasks are difficult.
Why is St. Joseph called the “silent saint”?
St. Joseph’s words are not recorded in the Bible stories, but we know that he was a just and righteous man who worked hard to care for his family. In St. Joseph’s case, his actions in obedience to God’s will speak louder than his words ever could.
How did St. Joseph respond to God’s call?
He immediately did what God was asking him to do. Even though St. Joseph did not fully understand God’s plan, he responded obediently to God’s requests.
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
St. Joseph is the guardian and protector of the Holy Family and of the Church. When Herod commanded the slaughter of the innocents, an angel warned St. Joseph in a dream. St. Joseph didn’t question the angel for a second. He got up at once and took his young family to Egypt where the angel assured him they would be safe. Imagine having a dream that your family is in danger and responding to it seriously by leaving in the night in order to save your family. St. Joseph and Mary had complete trust in God and knew that He would protect them as they sojourned in a foreign land.
Being a protector is not always easy. In fact, it can be really scary at times. Fathers are called to be protectors of their families like St. Joseph. Dads stand between your family and the world, making sure you are always safe and secure. They sacrifice their own comfort to do this, but you are worth it!
What did St. Joseph do for his family?
Like any good husband and father, St. Joseph stood between his family and the dangers of the world. He was a hard worker and did whatever he needed to do to take care of his family. He protected Jesus and Mary and provided for them.
How are you as a pro-lifer called to be a protector?
Being pro-life means you always look out for those smaller, younger, or weaker than you. You can pray for an end to abortion, stand up for the truth even when it’s not easy or popular, and you can be a good friend—especially to someone who is feeling lonely or forgotten.
When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean.”
St. Joseph ends his story in the Bible with the childhood of Jesus. It is clear that St. Joseph never witnessed any of Jesus’ public miracles, yet he remained faithful to the promise of God that Jesus would “save His people from their sins.” When times are hard, it can be easy to lose hope that the future will be bright and beautiful. St. Joseph was not only obedient to God’s requests, he also had faith that God would lead them through the trials in Egypt and everyday life.
Through his “yes” to God’s plan, St. Joseph readily accepted his role as father and head of the Holy Family with all of its responsibilities and worries. He was a great provider and worked hard so he could offer his family the things they needed. As providers, fathers are often up and off to work before you are awake so they can provide you with food, shelter, clothing, and fun treats!
During his life St. Joseph remained loyal to God and to his family. Loyalty means you look out for those you love and you always treat them with respect and kindness. St. Joseph was also chivalrous. He took care of Mother Mary and treated her with the utmost respect and love. Think of their journey to Bethlehem. How is it depicted? Mary rode the donkey and Joseph walked. He made sure she was as comfortable as possible. He did not take turns riding the donkey or have her walk next to him! He was chivalrous. Chivalry for boys means taking care of the girls and women in their lives by doing things like opening the door for mom or letting your sister have the biggest piece of cake. You always put the needs of others before yours. For girls it means allowing the boys and men in your life to take care of you by letting them carry heavy things for you, allowing them to hold the umbrella while you walk in the rain, or just saying thank you when your dad or brothers try to take care of you.
What does it mean to be humble?
Humility is recognizing the gifts and talents of others and not clamoring to always be first in line or the center of attention.
How was St. Joseph humble?
As he helped to raise the Son of God, St. Joseph did not claim any power or glory for himself. Instead, he let his actions glorify God. St. Joseph was the foster father of Jesus. Can you think of a more intimidating vocation? He was not born free from sin like the Blessed Mother. He had to take a back seat his entire life to Mary and Jesus and from all that we know he did that with amazing humility and love. St. Joseph played an important role in the history of salvation, but he never bragged about it. He put the needs of Mary above his own when he married her. He let Mary and Jesus shine.
How can you imitate the example of St. Joseph?
St. Joseph was an ordinary man who was given the extraordinary responsibility of caring for Jesus and Mary. Even though his role was vital to the salvation of the world, St. Joseph never had any direct speech recorded in the Bible stories. Fathers are an important part of our lives. They deserve our thanks, respect, and our prayers.
What qualities make a good dad?
Answers will vary, but suggest: humility, faithfulness, loyalty, chivalry, patience, etc. A good dad provides for his family and works hard to keep them safe from harm. Like St. Joseph, good dads devote their entire lives to caring for their families in good times and in bad times.
How is St. Joseph a role model for fathers today?
Even though he was troubled by Mary’s situation, St. Joseph remained faithful to God’s plan for his life. Fathers can use St. Joseph as a role model by imitating his obedience to God and his unfailing devotion to his family.
Why are fathers important?
Fathers are important because they provide for the family, protect the family, and help the family make moral decisions. Mary could not have protected and raised Baby Jesus on her own; she needed the strong support of St. Joseph.
Why is St. Joseph particularly special for us?
We live in a broken world. Because of divorce, separation, or loss, not every child knows his father. St. Joseph is a very special saint because he was the closest person to Jesus (after the Blessed Mother). We should always turn to St. Joseph for his help and intercession. If we follow St. Joseph’s example, we can help to build a culture of life.
Use one or two of these ideas to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19.
Use the questions below to help start a discussion of St. Joseph in art:
How is St. Joseph depicted in art? What does he look like?
St. Joseph is usually depicted as an old man with a long white beard. However, the gospels do not indicate that he was an old man or significantly older than Mary. We simply do not know. St. Joseph is also often depicted as a carpenter, with his tools nearby.
What other figures usually appear in scenes of Christ’s early life with the Holy Family?
We often see the angels, other biblical figures like Simeon and Anna at the Presentation in the Temple, and art patrons who financially sponsored the artist or commissioned the painting.