The Story of Saint Joseph for Children, by Sister M Eleanore, C.S.C.

detail of the painting 'The Holy Family before the carpenter's workshop', c.1700, artist unknown; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

The Carpenter of Nazareth

It was a great day in the Jewish Temple of Nazareth. A husband was to be chosen for Mary, the daughter of Joachim and Ann. Because she was of the royal house of King David, her husband must also be of that house, for this was the custom of the Jews.

The sun was warm and bright on the stones that made the walks of the Temple courtyard. God had waited from all eternity to make beautiful days for the feasts of Mary, who was to be His Mother. Several men came to the Temple on this day to ask for the hand of Mary, because she was known to be good and lovely. Among them was Joseph the carpenter. His family had moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth, and when he grew up he had followed his father’s trade as a carpenter.

When Mary was very young she had promised God she would never marry, but, like the Sisters, would devote herself especially to God and His service. She was surprised, therefore, when the high priest told her she was to marry. But she was obedient and the command of the high priest was the will of God to her and so she consented to marry. She knew that God would take care of her promise always to be a virgin for love of Him.

When the suitors had all asked the high priest for the hand of the Blessed Virgin, he prayed for a sign from Heaven to know which to choose. Mary prayed very hard. Suddenly the staff that Saint Joseph carried in his hand blossomed into lilies. This was a sign to Mary that he, as she, had promised God he would always be a virgin. So she was very happy.

According to the custom of the Jews, sacrifices were offered to God and many prayers were said for the newly betrothed couple. That evening a feast was given to the closest relatives. It was not a very big feast because Joseph and Mary were poor.

After the betrothal Mary went back to live in her own home till it was time for the wedding to take place, for this was the custom of the Jews.

Saint Joseph and our Lady did not know yet that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. They thought they would never have children because that had promised God to be virgins like Priests and Brothers and Sisters are. But the Lord Jesus wanted to become man and He wanted our Blessed Lady for His Mother. So God the Father made Him a human soul and God the Holy Ghost made Him a human body which was born of a Mother and grew like any baby’s body, and the Lord Jesus in His own divine Person took the soul and body in union to Himself. In this way “the Word was made flesh.” Jesus is called the Word of God and the flesh means He became human.

God sent the archangel Gabriel to tell our Lady that He wanted her for His Mother. At first she was afraid she could not do this because she had promised God not to have the joy of children of her own but only to be a spiritual mother to other women’s children, like the Sisters who teach and care for the poor and sick and pray for sinners. But the archangel told her God wanted her for His Mother, anyway. So she said she would be His Mother.

She did not tell Saint Joseph what had happened, because it was a secret between God and her. So Saint Joseph was worried and unhappy when he found out she was going to have a child, for he thought she had not kept her promise to God. Then God sent an angel to tell Saint Joseph that Mary was chosen to be His Mother and that he was to take her as his wife and support and care for her and the Child, Who was to be named Jesus.

detail of a bas-relief of the marriage of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, date and artist unknown; photographed in March 2007 by Gunnar Bach Pedersen; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsSaint Joseph is Married

So Saint Joseph and our Lady celebrated their marriage happily, and then Mary went to live in the poor little home that Saint Joseph had prepared for her. One part of the house was a carpenter shop in which Saint Joseph worked making tools and furniture to sell to the people of the town. In those days only those who were farmers or soldiers or had state offices belonged to the upper class of society. So Saint Joseph belonged to the humbler class.

Saint Joseph Leaves Nazareth

Just when it was time for our Lord to be born, the Emperor Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that the whole world should be enrolled. He wanted to know how many people he ruled. Because Saint Joseph’s family came from the town of Bethlehem, he and Mary had to go there to be enrolled. It seems that they decided to move there.

Saint Joseph had to buy an ox to carry their few household goods and their clothes and food for the journey. He also had to buy an ass for Mary to ride upon. An ox is a big strong animal, somewhat like a cow, that in former times was used to pull loads and to plow. The pioneers of America used oxen to pull their covered wagons when they traveled to the west of our country. An ass is a strong little animal that looks like a mule. Both are gentle and patient and both have big soft eyes. This ox and ass Saint Joseph bought were to be present in the stable when the Saviour was born. You have seen little images of them in the Christmas crib.

detail from the painting 'Josef und Maria auf Herbergsuche' by Carl Rahl, 1865; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsSaint Joseph and our Lady set out with some of their relatives and friends who also were going to Bethlehem. It was in December and so the fields were bare and the wind was cold. They arrived in the town in the late afternoon and the snow was falling. They went to the inn to get shelter for the night, but found that all the rooms were taken. Saint Joseph felt very sad because of this. He went to several places asking for shelter, but every room in the town was taken. Finally the innkeeper told him he could find a rude shelter in an old stable at the edge of town.

Saint Joseph at Bethlehem

Saint Joseph and our Lady went to this old stable. On the way Saint Joseph got some clean straw with which to make a bed for our Lady. He fed the ox and the ass. After he and Mary had eaten their supper they lay down to sleep. Soon there was no sound except when the ox or the ass moved in the straw.

Suddenly Saint Joseph was awakened by the sound of lovely singing and a glorious light that filled the poor little stable. Then what do you think he saw? Wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger was the most beautiful Baby in all the world. Beside the manger Mary knelt in adoration. Jesus the Light of the world had been born. Saint Joseph fell on his knees and wept for joy. Then Mary let him hold the sleeping Child.

Soon there came the sound of voices and of running feet. Saint Joseph went to open the door of the stable. At the door were some shepherds. They all talked at once. Then one of them who seemed to be the leader said to Saint Joseph:

“We were keeping the night watches over our flocks. And behold an angel stood by us, and the brightness of God shone round about us; and we feared with a great fear. And the angel said to us: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for, this day, is born to you a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will. So we said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us. We have sought the Child. Is He here?”

While the shepherd asked, “Is He here?” Saint Joseph stepped aside and motioned them all to enter. When they saw the Babe with His Mother they were very happy and they knelt to pray. They were the first, after our Lady and Saint Joseph, to see the great God become a helpless Babe for love of us all.

Saint Joseph Provides a Home

When it was morning Saint Joseph set out to find a house in which his little family could live. When he had found a vacant one in a poor section of the town he prepared it as best he could. Then he brought the Babe and Mary, and soon, though they had very few things, our Lady made it into a home.

When the Child was eight days old Saint Joseph named Him according to the Jewish custom. He named Him Jesus, as the angel had told him to do. Jesus means Saviour.

Some time later wise men from the eastern countries came to adore Jesus. They had seen a new star in the sky, and as they thought it might mean the Saviour was born, they followed it till it came and stood above the house where the Holy Family lived. These wise men were of noble birth, and so they had many attendants with them. On their way to visit Jesus they stopped to pay their respects to King Herod. He was afraid the new-born King might get some of his power, and so he decided to kill Him. So he asked the wise men to come back to tell him where the Child was, saying he also wished to adore Him. This was a terrible lie.

When the wise men came into the poor house of the Holy Family, they knelt to adore the Babe. Then, as He smiled at them, they gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts were valuable, and Saint Joseph was glad to get them because he was so poor and it was hard to get enough from his trade as carpenter to support his family.

The wise men did not go back to Herod, for an angel told them in sleep that Herod wanted to kill our Lord. They went home another way. Herod was very angry. So he decided to kill all the boy children under two years of age. God knew this was going to happen, and so He sent an angel to awaken Saint Joseph from sleep one night to tell him about it.

In the Land of Egypt

detail of an illustration of the 'Flight into Egypt' by Francesco Bartolozzi, c.1790; Pushking Museum of Fine Arts; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsSaint Joseph went right away to tell our Lady they must leave Bethlehem and seek a place outside the realm of Herod. She got ready to go and dressed our Lord for the journey while Saint Joseph packed the few things they could take with them on the ox. Then our Lady with the little Lord Jesus in her arms got on the poor gray ass. Saint Joseph led the ox, and they started on the long journey into the land of Egypt.

They went along a road that was much used in those days. Traders went over it with their goods, and also Jewish families from Palestine who were escaping from the cruelty of the Romans. Saint Joseph and our Lady were much afraid the soldiers would catch them before they reached the River of Egypt, seventy miles away. At last, however, they were across the river and safe from Herod, who had no power in that land.

We do not know exactly where Saint Joseph found a home in Egypt. Probably it was in Heliopolis, a city near Cairo, because there was a Jewish settlement there. Perhaps you have seen the beautiful picture of the great sphinx in the desert with Mary and her Babe asleep on its huge forepaw while Saint Joseph keeps guard over them. This could easily have happened during their journey into Egypt. Travel was very slow in those days, especially when people were, like Saint Joseph, so poor that they had to walk from place to place.

The Holy Family stayed in Egypt about two years. Then the cruel King Herod died. One night an angel of the Lord came to Saint Joseph while he was asleep and told him to arise and to take the Child and His Mother and go into the land of Israel. Saint Joseph did this. Again they packed up their few things, and taking the little Jesus, now almost four years old, set out on the journey.

Saint Joseph intended to go back to Bethlehem to live. When he came close to the land of Israel he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now the king. He was afraid this king would want to kill Jesus as his father had wanted to. He prayed for light to know what to do. That night while he lay asleep on the roadside an angel came to him. The angel said that God wanted him to live in Nazareth in the country of Galilee. That is why our Lord is called a Nazarene and the carpenter’s Son of Nazareth.

The Gospel tells us that Saint Joseph was a just man. Our Lady never sinned at all. And Jesus is holiness itself. So you can imagine how happy the little family of Nazareth must have been. But a great sorrow was always in their hearts. They knew that Jesus had to suffer and die for our sins. When Saint Joseph went to deliver tools and furniture he had made, Jesus would sometimes go with him. When they got home, Saint Joseph would wash the dust of the street from his feet and then would take off the sandals from our Lord’s little feet and wash them. He would kiss them tenderly and think how they would one day be pierced with terrible nails.

Sometimes in the evenings when they sat in the dooryard our Lady would twine the long dark curls of Jesus about her fingers and think how one day a crown of cruel thorns would make the blood from His sacred head flow through them. When she bathed His little body she would think how one awful night wicked soldiers would beat it with leaded whips till the flesh was torn to ribbons and His bones were showing.

Sometimes when Saint Joseph came home in the evenings Jesus would run to meet him with outstretched arms. In the setting sun His shadow would look like a cross, and then His parents would think of the day when He would hang on a cross for our sins. When He would ask for a drink and Saint Joseph would hold the gourd of water to His mouth, he would think he heard Jesus say, as He did when He was hanging on the cross, “I thirst.”

Sometimes Saint Joseph would be so sad while they were working in the carpenter shop that Jesus would have to comfort him. He would put His little arms about Saint Joseph’s neck and tell him that it was not his fault. You see, Saint Joseph did not commit any big sins for he was a just man. He needed to be saved from original sin as we all do, but that sin was his through Adam’s fault and not through his own. It is believed that Saint Joseph was cleansed from original sin while he was very young, perhaps even before he was born, as Saint John the Baptist was. God could do this by using the merits of our Lord’s passion before it actually took place.

Saint Joseph was very pious, and he kept holy all the sacred feasts of the Jews. He went to Jerusalem every year at the solemn feast of the Pasch, which commemorated the time when the children of the Israelites were not killed by the angels who killed the children of the Egyptians, to make them let the chosen people go back to their own land. He probably went to the other two solemn feasts of the Jews in the Temple at Jerusalem. Our Lady and Jesus probably went with him to these festivals.

When Jewish boys were twelve years old they put on the robe of manhood. Before this time their fathers taught them the Scriptures and the Jewish laws and customs and also the other things you learn in school. They did not have schools like ours. So Saint Joseph taught Jesus all these things.

Saint Joseph Seeks Jesus

detail of a bas-relief of 'Jesus Among the Doctors', date and artist unknown; high altar of Saint Joseph, Augustinian Church, Ribeauville, Alsace, Haut-Rhin, France; photographed in 2014 by Ralph Hammann; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsWhen Jesus was twelve years old the Holy Family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Pasch. After the festival was over, they set out for home. Jesus, however, stayed behind after the people with whom His parents were, had gone. They did not worry at first, for they supposed He was somewhere else in the company. When night was come, however, He did not join them as they had expected. So they sought Him throughout the company.

When they could not find Him they returned to Jerusalem. They were very sad. Any father and mother would be sad over losing a child. But Saint Joseph and our Lady knew their Child was God. Just think how they felt. Perhaps it seemed cruel for our Lord to stay behind without telling them, but He is God and God does not always explain things to us. He wants us to trust Him always to do what is best and right for us. Besides, our dear Lord had some work to do for His Heavenly Father.

For three long unhappy days Saint Joseph and our Lady went about the streets of Jerusalem searching for Jesus. They asked everyone they met and inquired at every house. At last they went to the Temple to see whether He might be there. He had been there most of the time. When they found Him He was sitting in the midst of the doctors of the law, hearing them and asking them questions. The doctors were amazed at His wisdom, for they thought that He was only a carpenter’s son.

Jesus had much more learning than Saint Joseph had taught Him. He had all human knowledge as well as all divine knowledge. He learned as other children do because He wanted to know exactly how we live and also that He might give us an example. But He did not need to learn in this way. So you can see why the doctors were so surprised that a boy of twelve knew more than they did after all their years of study.

Just imagine how happy His parents were to find Him again. Our Lady asked Him why He had left them without telling them. He said that He had to do this work for His Heavenly Father. Because Saint Joseph and our Lady wanted only the will of God in all things and because they knew what a wonderful privilege they had in being allowed to have our Lord at all, they were satisfied with this answer.

Then Jesus went home with them and lived in perfect obedience to them till He was thirty years old, when He began His public life. Saint Joseph taught Jesus his trade as a carpenter. He also taught Him more of the Scriptures and the Jewish laws and customs.

detail of a statue depicting the death of Saint Joseph, side altar, parish church of Saint Martin, Kirchberg an der Iller, Biberach, Germany, date and artist unknown; photographed in August 2009 by Veit Feger; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsSometime before Jesus was old enough to begin His public life Saint Joseph died. When he was dying Jesus held him in His arms, and Mary knelt beside him. Though he was sad to leave them, he gladly did God’s will.

Joseph the Saint

God always wants His special friends to have great confidence in Him. One way in which to make them show their confidence is to try their faith very often. So God often tried Saint Joseph’s faith, as this story shows you.

God also wants His special friends not only to do good acts but to be good in themselves. Saint Joseph not only kept all the commandments; he was good all the way through. He kept himself free even from little faults.

God also wants His special friends to be very humble. Saint Joseph is so humble that his whole life is hidden in that of Jesus. We know less about him than about almost any other great man in history. He wanted it this way, for all he wanted to be or do was just as the protector of Jesus and Mary. He had no thoughts or ambitions outside them. He was satisfied even to die before our Lord began His public life and worked miracles and established His Church. Saint Joseph asked nothing whatever for himself. Yet, having Jesus and Mary, he had more than any one else in all the world.

MLA Citation

  • Sister M Eleanore, C.S.C.. The Story of Saint Joseph for Children, 1932. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 January 2016. Web. 10 December 2016. <>