Dedham parish marks solemnity with traditional St. Joseph's Table

DEDHAM -- As Father Wayne Belschner, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Dedham, set the table in the parish rectory on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, he thought of the "generosity" of Jesus's earthly father.

How could he not? He was preparing St. Joseph's Table, an Italian tradition involving a more-than-generous array of pastries, cookies, chocolates, oranges, flowers, and other baked goods of all shapes and sizes, elaborately arranged in honor of St. Joseph's Day. A wooden statue of St. Joseph looked down on Father Belschner's spread, parts of which were donated by local bakeries and homemade by parishioners. Not to be left out, St. Patrick, in statue form, was also present at the table, next to a plate of homemade Irish soda bread.

"We have no words in Scripture attributed to St. Joseph, yet he's a powerful intercessor for us," Father Belschner told The Pilot. "So, I was thinking, in the simplicity of just putting some pastries and desserts together, just how powerful St. Joseph's example is in people's lives."

After the 12:10 p.m. Mass on March 19, dozens of parishioners headed to the rectory to enjoy St. Joseph's Table. The atmosphere was like that of a house party as parishioners ate, socialized, and gathered in the rectory's sumptuous parlor.

"Oh my God, I'm enjoying this so much," one woman said. "I eat like a little kid."

When her friend accidentally spilled her pastry on the floor, she advised her: "It's okay. Everything's blessed here, anyway."

The tradition of St. Joseph's Table began in 15th-century Sicily. During a devastating drought, the people of Sicily prayed for St. Joseph's intercession.

"We need a strong figure, an intercessor for us, and St. Joseph provides that," Father Belschner said. "He provides us with an example of a father's role."

When rain finally came, the Sicilians thanked St. Joseph with a grand meal on his feast day every year.

"They would just open their doors and people would come in," Father Belschner said, "and it'd be their way of welcoming St. Joseph, like when there was no room in the inn for him, as well as the Flight into Egypt. This was their way of making room for St. Joseph."

The traditional pastry of St. Joseph's Day is zeppole, deep-fried dough filled with cream. In Sicily, zeppole have a whimsical cream puff shape, while in central Italy they resemble donuts. Zeppole is parishioner Mary Donato's favorite part of St. Joseph's Table, and she prefers them in the style of her Sicilian ancestors.

"This is our heritage," she told The Pilot.

Father Belschner said that St. Joseph "never looked for any glory" and simply did what God and his family asked of him.

"St. Joseph provides us with a model of family life," he said, "how he watched over Our Lady, how he watched over our Savior, and his model was really simple."

"He was chosen and he was so obedient to the Lord and to Mary," Donato said, "and he humbled himself and took our Lord as his son. He didn't expect that in his plans, but he accepted the Lord's direction. And he's an example of what all men should be in the world."