Passing through the main thoroughfare in Danville, there’s no way to overlook St. Joseph Parish.
St. Joseph School fronts the bustling Route 11, with the steeple of the 152-year-old church towering above. An elevated statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, His arms spread wide, offers welcome.
But it’s not just the physical presence of the parish that stands out in the southern Montour County town. St. Joseph Parish is a light of faith and service in the community.
During this special Year of St. Joseph – declared by Pope Francis from Dec. 8, 2020, through Dec. 8, 2021 – the parish is delving deeper into the life of its patron and reflecting on the ways it emulates him in its mission to show Christ to the world.
“This year, for me, has been a great opportunity to really dive into getting to know St. Joseph more – as not just the patron saint of this parish, but the earthly father of Jesus. It’s given parishioners an opportunity to hit the pause button and reflect on that,” said Father Timothy Marcoe, pastor.
To that end, the parish has offered a number of spiritual opportunities, including a Mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer on March 21 and the program of Consecration to St. Joseph made popular this past year by Father Donald Calloway. The parish offered in-person and virtual meetings to lead parishioners through the Consecration program, through which faithful entrust themselves to St. Joseph’s paternal care and acknowledge him as their spiritual father, so as to resemble him in virtue and holiness.
Another unique offering in observation of the Year of St. Joseph is the weekly placement of a lily on his altar as a sign of their love and devotion to him.
The presentation of the white flower – which represents Joseph’s virtue, chastity, obedience to God and faithfulness to Mary – was the idea of parishioner Ron Toczek, who has a strong devotion to the saint.
“I love St. Joseph dearly, and I asked to meet with Father Marcoe in January to ask what we could do as a parish to honor St. Joseph. One of my suggestions was to put a flower on his altar each week, and Father suggested a lily,” he said.
Toczek arranged with a local florist to deliver a new lily every Friday throughout the year. Not only does the gesture honor the saint, it’s also part of an effort to benefit the greater community. Parishioners are invited to offer a contribution for the altar lilies, with monies to be presented to a local charity at the end of the year.
“I’ve always seen Joseph and Mary as my models of sanctity and mission,” said Toczek, who has been an active member of St. Joseph Parish for 25 years. “They gave us the greatest gift, which is Jesus. I have many graces that I have received through prayer, even graces every day.”
Through the Consecration to St. Joseph and the altar lilies, parishioners “are really seeing [St. Joseph] as more than just a placeholder in a family,” Father Marcoe said. “There’s a lot of depth and substance to him, and that’s coming to light.
Bringing Christ to the World
“St. Joseph is somebody who is really a man of faith and a doer. When the going got tough, he put his faith into practice. When we look at our parish, we see so many wonderful ministries and groups here that really help embody the faith that we possess and our experience of worship, and we extend that into parishioners’ lives and into the community,” Father Marcoe said.
One example of community outreach is the Kindness Cupboard, where people in need can pick up donated food items.
“Our Kindness Cupboard is associated with the school. It’s a repository where people can place food items, and anybody in the community who is in need can come and help themselves,” Father Marcoe explained. “There are so many people who pass it in a given day who need that assistance.”
The cupboard, situated along the street between the church and the school, is an enclosed set of shelves. On any given day, items can include cans of soup and vegetables, jars of sauce and boxes of pasta and cereal.
Another popular volunteer effort is the annual Thanksgiving meal. A ministry of the Knights of Columbus, the meal is open to anyone in the community who is in need of a full holiday dinner with all the trimmings.
“I’m familiar with a lot of very needy families, a lot of poor families in the area. I see how much it means to them to come and have a Thanksgiving meal – even elderly people who have no family around,” Toczek said. “Many of them are not Catholic, so if you think of this outreach in terms of St. Joseph and the Holy Family – what would they have done? They would have fed the hungry and shown Christ to the world. That’s what we’re doing with the Thanksgiving meal and everything that we do here.”
This past Thanksgiving, the Knights and parishioners transitioned the in-person, sit-down meal to curbside delivery as a safety measure against the spread of COVID-19. Still, the effort served as a way of evangelizing and extending hospitality and welcome to the parish and thus to the Catholic Church.
“I like to go to the Thanksgiving dinner to serve, but also to walk around and talk with people,” Father Marcoe said. “It’s interesting how many of them have said to me, ‘Father, I grew up Catholic,’ or ‘I used to go to church,’ and you get to have that little conversation with them. I don’t have any amazing conversion stories of anybody on the spot who said, ‘Can I go to Confession now?’ but they are seed-planting conversations.
“We’re showing them that this is a welcoming place,” he said.
Faithful and Steadfast
St. Joseph Parish in Danville was established in 1848, approximately 45 years after the first Catholics settled there. It was founded as a parish for Irish Catholics, who arrived in Danville in the late 1820s to work the Pennsylvania Canal. Father Joseph O’Keefe, a native of Cork, Ireland, was named its first pastor.
Its first church was a wooden structure at the corner of Pine and Center streets, but with some 2,000 parishioners on the registry by 1867, the parish had quickly outgrown its original place of worship. The current church was dedicated in 1869.
In the 1880s, two other Catholic congregations in the Danville area – St. Hubert and St. James – merged into St. Joseph’s.
St. Joseph Catholic School opened in 1890 in the original church structure, and moved to its current site three years later. The present school building was dedicated in 1961.
Today, the parish is home to approximately 1,050 families, including people who are native to Danville and those who have moved to the town to work at nearby Geisinger Medical Center.
“It’s a very wonderful blend of the local and the transplant ends of the spectrum, and that brings a lot of diversity to the parish,” Father Marcoe said.
“We also have a lot of young families. Our parish school has become more robust over the past several years. Even in the midst of COVID, the parish school has been able to grow and thrive, which is a testament to the leadership and a great community that has received the school. There is a lot of growth happening right now at the parish,” he said.
Students at St. Joseph School enjoy regular all-school Masses in the church, and Stations of the Cross during Lent. They also welcome Father Marcoe into their classrooms – an interaction that forms an important foundation.
“Having that kind of familiarity really does pave the way for forming a relationship to then talk to them on a deeper level about faith and spirituality. It’s been very rewarding,” Father Marcoe said. “I go to the classrooms regularly to talk with the children, and I just love the questions that they have and engaging them in the subject matter that they’re learning. It allows them to relate to me in a completely different way, and they see me as someone who also went to school at one time.”
In this Year of St. Joseph, parishioners have cause for celebration, specifically for their faithfulness and steadfastness during the challenges brought on by the pandemic. As in parishes across the Diocese, these efforts have included a willingness to clean and sanitize after Masses and meetings, to follow safety protocols and to find new and safe ways to continue worship and ministries.
“What I see with the parish is a resiliency to keep moving forward. To so many of the faithful, that one constant in their life is the faith…. Finding a way to practice their faith as close to as what they’re used to has been a source of comfort,” Father Marcoe said.
“They’ve stepped up in that regard and that has been encouraging to me. There has been a lot of extra work put on me as pastor, so trying to figure ways to share the burden where appropriate and asking for help has been humbling and helpful all at the same time,” he said. “There have been so many inconveniences, but by and large people have just accepted it and asked what we can do to move forward.”
He hopes parishioners – and all Catholics – take away from this special year a deeper understanding of the model that St. Joseph provides.
“What is the role of St. Joseph in the average Catholic’s life, regardless of whether they attend a St. Joseph Parish or not? My image of family life and of a spiritual family is that love multiplies. The more people in the family, the more opportunity there is for giving love and receiving love. It’s the same thing with the Communion of Saints,” he remarked.
“Growing in devotion to St. Joseph doesn’t take away from the adoration and worship that we give to God; it actually gives us an avenue to really appreciate the marvels of God in someone like St. Joseph, and seeing how much God cares for us, as he cared for Jesus in giving Him his earthly father. He gives us St. Joseph to be an advocate and protector from heaven,” he said.
The year is also an opportunity to discover the meaning of family and fatherhood in an age where fatherhood is under attack or is misunderstood.
“There are all these misunderstandings and misappropriations of masculinity, and St. Joseph is giving us a holy model to hold up and say, ‘This is the goal; this is what God had in mind,’” he said.
(Learn more about St. Joseph Parish in Danville at www.stjosephparishdanville.org.)
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness