Mounds of famous fig cookies, intricately designed floral presentations, bowls overflowing with fruit, and freshly baked breads will be just some of the features ornately displayed this month local Catholic parishioners are in the final preparations for their church’s annual St. Joseph Altar.
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.
“St. Joseph’s Altar is a thanksgiving offered by our parish community in honor of Saint Joseph for the blessings of the previous year,” Father Anthony Odiong of St. Anthony of Padua said. “It is also a plea and a prayer for his protection and favor for the upcoming year in honor of the saint who did not only protect Sicily, but the man-God from infancy to manhood.”
St. Gertrude Catholic Church, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Anthony of Padua are among the local Catholic churches hosting an altar this year.
At St. Gertrude’s, the altar is created by St. Gertrude’s Ladies Altar Society and friends. The altar will be held on Sunday, March 15 with a blessing following the 9:30 a.m. mass. Food will be served from 10 a.m. to 1p.m. Viewing only will continue through 2 p.m.
At St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Destrehan, the fifth annual altar will be blessed after the 8:15 a.m. mass on Thursday, March 19 and will be available for viewing in the Borromeo Room from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The altar is hosted by the St. Joseph’s Altar Society members.
Mary Engler, who helps to organize the altar at St. Charles Borromeo, said this year’s altar will feature a custom stained glass window constructed by St. Charles Parish resident Terry Vallani.
Unique to St. Charles Borromeo’s altar, she added, is a side candle altar that highlights framed pictures and the multiple titles of St. Joseph.
In Luling, St. Anthony of Padua’s altar will be blessed on Thursday, March 19 at 11 a.m. and open from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A lunch, available by donation, will be served.