Bas-relief sculptures showing the sorrows and joys of St. Joseph stand in the woods of The Grotto’s upper gardens.
Bas-relief sculptures showing the sorrows and joys of St. Joseph stand in the woods of The Grotto’s upper gardens.
During a year dedicated to St. Joseph, a unique St. Joseph-themed walking path at The Grotto in Northeast Portland may get the most attention it has received since being built 74 years ago.

The earthly father of Jesus has been the official universal patron of the Catholic Church since 1870. Devotions to him were strong in the first half of the 20th century, but now he tends to be outshone by his wife and son.

“St. Joseph is not always taken into consideration,” admitted Servite Father Vidal Martinez, rector of The Grotto. To remedy that, Pope Francis declared the year to run through Dec. 8, 2021. Father Martinez is inviting the faithful to walk peacefully on a little pilgrimage through The Grotto’s St. Joseph Grove, which features a statue and seven marble bas-relief sculptures inscribed with seven sorrows and seven joys of St. Joseph.

The Grotto’s presentation of the joys and sorrows is unique in that one joy and one sorrow, edited to nice crispness, are paired on each of seven marble tablets. It seems to be a sign that each day of each life contains both joy and sorrow.

Father Martinez says Pope Francis was wise to declare the special year at a time when global tensions are high and the world seems to be losing sight of the common good.

“St. Joseph was very attentive to the voice of God in his life,” Father Martinez said, looking up at a 7-foot-tall statue of the saint. “He had confidence in God and experienced God asking him to do things in dreams. Then he did it. God gave messages and they resulted in blessings for the Holy Family.”

Along with Mary, St. Joseph is co-patron of the Servite friars who founded The Grotto in the 1920s and still guide it. To get to their monastery from the sanctuary sites, the Servites walk through the St. Joseph Grove daily.

Father Martinez also is given to dawn strolls in The Grotto gardens and often shares videos and photos with the public on social media. He likes the peaceful St. Joseph Grove, which includes pullover spots so pilgrims can pray as long as they want. A new bench sits facing the main statue.

At sunset near the grove, a pair of owls calls to each other. In the spring, the area will erupt with thousands of blooms.

The grove, enveloped amid towering trees in a quiet corner of the upper gardens, was created in 1947 as a compliment to the Via Matris, the path with statues showing key moments in the life of the Virgin Mary. “You could meditate with both,” said Vinci Patterson, director of community engagement at The Grotto.

Patterson, who holds a master’s degree in divinity, marvels at St. Joseph’s reverence for his relationship with Mary.

A large statue of Joseph and Jesus stands on a wall above an altar. The statue is rare in that it shows St. Joseph and the child Jesus gazing at one another. Often in such images, Jesus looks out at the viewer. “There is a tenderness. I love this statue,” said Patterson.

The grove already gets good use. Grotto staff have seen stepparents and foster parents bring children to the statue and explain that St. Joseph was Jesus’ foster father and loved him deeply.

The tablets are mounted on walls made of lava rock quarried from Ridgefield, Washington, in the flow of Mount St. Helens eruptions. The tablets themselves are made of Carrara marble from northern Tuscany in Italy, not far from where the Servites were founded in 1233 on Mount Senario.

The Grotto is creating a prayer book that incorporates the images and the seven joys and sorrows.

Seven days prior to the March 19 feast of St. Joseph, the sanctuary will hold daily prayers focusing on one joy and one sorrow of St. Joseph. Plans also call for a special event on the feast day itself and on May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The Grotto also intends to hold a Father’s Day event at the site.

Talk of St. Joseph is coming up everywhere. In a Jan. 9 reflection on St. Joseph during a retreat for prospective seminarians, Archbishop Alexander Sample noted that Christ’s humanity likely was formed in large part by St. Joseph. Perhaps Jesus laughed like Joseph, or shared his earthly Father’s sense of humor, the archbishop said.

The archbishop explained that, at God’s command, Joseph gave up his plans with his lovely young wife to follow God’s will.