Past Newsworthy Dads

St. Joseph the Realtor?

by Gerald Korson

What about that practice of homeowners who bury a statue of St. Joseph — often upside-down — in their yards for a successful sale of their property?

Christians of all denominations and even non-Christians have been known to do this, and many religious-goods vendors sell “St. Joseph house sale kits” in their retail shops and websites.

Stephen Binz, a Catholic biblical scholar and author of the book Saint Joseph, My Real Estate Agent: Why the Patron Saint of Home Life Is the Patron Saint of Home-Selling (Servant, 2003), became familiar with the practice when his real-estate agent, a Presbyterian, recommended he bury a statue of St. Joseph after his house sat on the market for seven months. A week later, he sold the house. The buyer’s name? Joseph.

The practice has several reputed origins. It may have started with an order of European nuns who supposedly buried a St. Joseph medal and prayed for his intercession to obtain (not sell) a suitable building for use as a convent. Some suggest it dates to a practice among German carpenters who put St. Joseph statues in the foundations of homes they build. One rumor suggests that Blessed Andre Bessette (1845-1937), a Holy Cross brother in Quebec, may have buried St. Joseph medals on a piece of property he wanted to purchase from landowners who had rejected all previous offers. The owners suddenly had a change of heart and sold the lot to Andre, who went on to build the original St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, now a minor basilica, where many miraculous healings have been reported.

Whatever its beginnings, interring St. Joseph is not all that uncommon. Nor is it forbidden by the Church, at least insofar as the act serves as an expression of faith and the power of intercessory prayer. Nevertheless, the ritual not only lacks any kind of official Church approval, it also risks crossing from pious private devotion into mere superstition.

Cheryl Dickow, a Catholic publisher and author, doesn’t have a problem with the practice per se, but worries that some may wander from Catholic piety into superstition. As Binz does in his book, she argues that the ritual must be done as an act of devotion.

“When you abide by the practices of our faith and never cross into superstition-induced behavior, it could make perfect sense to bury a statue because it isn’t the act of burying the statue that you see as having value and benefit but, instead, the intercession of St. Joseph, whom you rightly call upon for help,” she said recently in her column on the Catholic Exchange website. “These things that move you towards a deeper relationship with God and an understanding of His commands can be good for you. They can help you grow in your faith.”

David Ross, a Catholic real-estate broker in Dallas, was asked by a Catholic client to bury a statue of the renowned carpenter on her property, which he did — gladly, he said.

 

David Ross

While he doesn’t recommend the practice to sellers, he does endorse the value of asking the intercession of St. Joseph and all the saints.

“I, myself, do not have a particular practice of employing the usage of an actual statue of the great saint,” he said. “However, I do have a devotion of praying over my business, and this definitely would include St. Joseph, as he is the patron saint of the home.”

For those who do bury St. Joseph, he emphasized, the intercessory prayer — and the faith and gratitude behind it — is what really matters.

“It was and certainly is the attachment of fervent prayer that ennobles our efforts and makes complete the custom” of burying the statue, Ross said. “To bring the saints and the Lord into our business as partners is not only a winning mix, but, more profoundly, it is a way to sanctify our business and work efforts in the glory of him who makes our very life possible.”