Q: What is the origin of the tradition of burying a statue of Saint Joseph on property that someone wants to sell? I had never heard of this until a few years ago.
A: Because this is an expression of popular piety, it is not easy to say where or when this tradition began. The reason for the custom, however, is easier to explain. Because he was the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus, Saint Joseph is considered the patron of families. As a result, this custom is more strongly linked to the sale of houses than to the sale of business property.
Devotion to Saint Joseph and the Holy Family increased worldwide in the 19th century. This was probably part of a Catholic response to the Industrial Revolution and the stress it placed on family members who moved from farming to factory work. That same response gave rise to St. Anthony Messenger, a family magazine!
Pope Benedict XVI once dedicated Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), a monumental church that Antoni Gaudí began building in 1882 in Barcelona, Spain. The architect used to say, “Saint Joseph will finish this church.” It is still under construction. The recently canonized Saint André Bessette had a similar trust that Saint Joseph would provide for the Oratory on Montréal’s Mount Royal.