March 19 is St. Joseph Day in the Catholic Church. Because St. Joseph is the patron saint of Conway’s Catholic community a special altar was built in the church’s Adoration Chapel. This tradition of erecting altars in honor of St. Joseph goes back to the Middle Ages in Sicily and Italy. There’d been a drought and famine, and the people there prayed to St. Joseph for intervention. When the rains finally came, it was believed St. Joseph delivered the area from this crisis. The families of farmers and fisherman then built special altars in their homes and shared their good fortune with others in need.
The altars were adorned with flowers, grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood and wine and invited all the poor to share in their prayer and festivity. St Joseph Church and school is carrying on this tradition. Elementary and Middle School art teacher Shannon Chamoun had some of her students help her make the decorative breads that are typically placed on the altar. A series of devotions were held in the church beginning on March 16. The altar was blessed on March 18. The Middle School children also came up with a project in the spirit of alms giving by sending home zip lock bags. They were to be filled with loose change that would go to the Community Action Program for Central Arkansas (CAPCA). The bags contained cards explaining the altar. Fava beans were also attached to the cards. In that time of drought and famine, fava beans had only been used as animal food. Yet they were the only things that grew under these conditions. They became a sustaining food of the farmers and their families. The bean became known as the “Lucky Bean, ” and it was thought that anyone who carried it would never be without coins. The St Joseph Day celebration culminated on Wednesday evening with a Lenten Spaghetti Dinner. Admission to the dinner was one non-perishable food item per person which would also go to CAPCA. During the dinner, there was a re-enactment of the Holy Family’s search for hospitality on the eve of his birth. The crowd was also entertained by the local Hispanic dance group of nearly 30 members known as La Danza San Jose.
For more pictures of the St. Joseph Feast Day visit here