An invitation to ‘Go to Joseph’

By Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem. | For The Compass | February 10, 2021

I interrupt our regularly scheduled Sunday Reading commentary to invite you to “Restore the Hope: Go to Joseph.” As we near the end of our Diocesan Year of St. Joseph and begin this historic Papal Year of St. Joseph, I am thrilled to share a brief history of our local Shrine of St. Joseph, as well as some exciting developments.

Our De Pere shrine’s history goes back to 1888 when Fr. Joseph Durin, a Sacred Heart Missionary priest, arrived in the diocese as the ninth pastor of St. Joseph Parish. Fr. Durin had a personal devotion to St. Joseph and encouraged this devotion among his parishioners and beyond. Immediately, he erected a St. Joseph statue and began a weekly novena and lay association in honor of St. Joseph. Unfortunately, on Aug. 13, 1889, the church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Remarkably, the St. Joseph statue survived the fire. Undaunted by the fire, Fr. Durin sought support around the country from bishops, priests and lay faithful to have this humble shrine and lay association officially recognized as the Archconfraternity for the entire nation.

What’s an archconfraternity? A confraternity is an association of men, women and children who agree to pray regularly for one another; often confraternities are connected to a particular devotion of the church. An archconfraternity is the confraternity that oversees all others in a particular country.

So, eventually, in 1891, Fr. Durin traveled to Rome with the support of some 30 bishops, including Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore. There, he was granted permission, according to papal decree from Pope Leo XIII, for his lay association to be the Archconfraternity for the entire United States.

Not too long after that, Fr. (later Abbot) Bernard Pennings arrived in Door County in 1893. And in 1898, Fr. Pennings laid prostrate in his parish church and prayed a 30-day novena to St. Joseph. During his novena, he trustingly asked St. Joseph’s intercession to guide him toward a church from which he could found a school to begin training men for priesthood. And in the summer of 1898, Fr. Pennings’ prayers were answered when he was invited to take over St. Joseph Parish, home of the Archconfraternity and National Shrine of St. Joseph. The Norbertines have been stewards of the parish, the shrine and the Archconfraternity ever since.

Unfortunately, during the 1960s and consistent with theology of simplification of the time, the Archconfraternity was somewhat forgotten despite the reality that it had been established “in perpetuity” by Pope Leo XIII back in 1892.

After nearly a year of so many bad news stories, finally, some good news. In the next couple of weeks, in collaboration between the Diocese of Green Bay, St. Norbert Abbey and the National Shrine of St. Joseph, the Archconfraternity will be officially resurrected! And, in so doing, we pray that a treasure of graces will be poured out upon our families, our local church and our entire nation.

To find out more about the Archconfraternity, the St. Joseph statue and the virtual St. Joseph Conference, “Restore the Hope: Go to Joseph” on Friday, March 19, visit theyearofsaintjoseph.org.

Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned master of divinity and theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

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