The friend we visited in Murphys just bought a mobile home in a seniors-only park. The property had been on the market for more than two years, since the owner died. Sharon had to get creative to scrape money together for a down payment, but she made an offer. That same day another person made an offer. The seller accepted Sharon’s.
She met the seller, the former owner’s daughter, to go through the place and bring in some boxes and furniture. A family friend of Sharon’s came to help. While Sharon was doing something in the kitchen area, the seller said, “Oh, I mustn’t forget. Do you have a shovel? I need to dig up St. Joseph.”
Sharon’s friend said, “Yes, you must do that.”
Sharon’s first thought; “The dead family pet? And they named it St. Joseph?”
“The thing is,” the seller said, “I don’t know exactly where he’s buried. I had to run up to the real estate office. I asked the neighbor to do it.” She went out to ask the neighbor.
Sharon stayed inside until she couldn’t stand the mystery any longer. She found the seller, her friend and the neighbor standing around a patch near the rose bed. They all looked perplexed. “I’m sure it was here,” the neighbor said, squatting and raking at the ground. “Oh, look, a gopher hole. Maybe he fell down there.”
Sharon said, “What on earth are you talking about?”
The seller explained. She had buried a small statue of St Joseph on the property, to help it sell. Within a week, she had two offers, after the place had sat unsold for over two years. The neighbor retrieved a gray plastic statue, dusted it off and handed it to Sharon.
This was the first Sharon had ever heard of such a thing. When she told me, it was the first I’d heard of it, but if you Google “St Joseph Help Sell My House” you will get scores of hits—many of them Internet –based companies who want to sell you a handy St-Joseph-sell-my-house kit.
I have to say, this represents a nice come-back for Catholicism’s most under-appreciated saint. Even novelist Elizabeth George commented on how ignored St. Joseph is. He’s like that great character actor whose name you never quite remember, who’s in all those movies where other people won Oscars. And can you imagine being Jesus’s stepfather?
Jesus, we’ve discussed this before. You must not turn water into wine unless your mother or I are here.
You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my real dad!
It’s nice to see some respect. That said, the St-Joseph-sell-my-house ritual seems fairly recent. Snopes.com dates it to the early-to-mid 1990s, with one unverified reference to an occurrence in 1979. Hmm. Early to mid 1990s. I wonder if there was something that happened around then, something technological that made catalog selling easier, something that transmitted information, accurate or not, to millions of people as quickly as a television. Right after I’m done blogging, I’ll have to research that.
The sites that sell the kits wax indignant at the 1990s timeline and say the process is much older. It may go back as far as the 1930s—wow!—or even (keep your hands inside the time-machine, please) to 1551, when St Theresa of Avila buried consecrated medals of St Joseph on land she was trying to purchase to form a convent. This story, though, is about buying a home, not selling one, and seems like a non-starter.
St Joseph will only help you sell a home. He won’t help with business property or unimproved acreage—unless maybe you live on it. If you are homeless and live in your car, will he help you sell the car? Maybe, if you don’t move the car, and you bury him underneath it. I’m sure there is an FAQ on one of the myriad websites that will address that question and others I haven’t even thought of. As the patron saint of families, Joseph has some responsibility for helping with the home thing, but he isn’t the saint to contact if you are trying to buy or find a home. That’s Our Lady of Lareto. I’m not sure why this isn’t on Joseph’s clipboard as well, but there you are.
(Is there a giant celestial white board in heaven, with a dry-erase grid, the saints each listed down one side, their assignments across the top? Is there a saint assigned to the whiteboard? Saint Erasus, Patron Saint of white board grids?)
The kits, which include a statuette of Joseph, anointing oil, a prayer and a story card, range from the low price of $3.49 plus shipping and handling all the way up to $23 for a pewter statue of the saint. Realtor-packs, 24 to a package, are also available. Just think, you can carry a bunch of St Joes in your trunk just the way, five years ago, you used to carry flats of bottled drinking water.
There is quite a lot of discussion of where and how Joseph is to be buried. The majority of people say he should be buried head-down, “his feet toward heaven.” One site suggested that this is so he can find his way home when his work his done. Isn’t that a bit rude? I know guys don’t ask for directions, but wouldn’t Joseph be able to find his way back to heaven? Some say the statute must be buried in a corner of the property, some say facing the front door, and some say next to the For Sale sign. Condo owners are allowed to place St Joe in a planter or flower pot.
Once the house is sold, the statue should be dug up and given a place of honor in the seller’s new home. He is not to be left in the ground. A couple of posters on a couple of sites suggested that leaving the statue would cause the property to change hands again. This, again, seems disrespectful of our saint, diminishing him, reducing him to a mere magic-engine, a factory-issue amulet or charm. Smart enough to raise God’s son, smart enough to make a fast getaway to Egypt ahead of Herod’s bad-guys (according to the Bible, anyway) but not smart enough to figure out not to sell the house again? Please. He’s a saint, not a contestant on Flip this House. Give the guy some credit.
In fact, in this case, what to do with the statue of Joseph was an issue. The seller didn’t have a new home; she was selling her father’s home. Her father didn’t have a new home. In the end, they gave Sharon the statue.
Sharon is not Catholic, she’s Protestant, and Protestants in general find the Catholic fixation with saints to be pretty suspect. On the other hand, she has complete admiration for someone who would follow the will of God even if it meant ridicule and ostracism in his life, even if it meant the threat of death. And, Joseph raised a son.
That little statue has a place of honor in Sharon’s house.