ROME – In 1961, St. Pope John XXIII wrote that while the Catholic Church bestows upon Jesus the adoration he deserves, with the Virgin Mary close behind, St. Joseph — “except from some slight sprinkling of references” — remained in the background.

It wasn’t until Dec. 8, 1870 – basically yesterday in an institution with more than two millennia of history – that Blessed Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph a Patron of the Universal Church.

To mark the 150th anniversary of that declaration, Pope Francis on Dec. 8 released the Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, which translates into “With a Father’s Heart.” He also declared 2021, up until Dec. 8, as the Year of St. Joseph.

American Father Donald Calloway, a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, has long been a promoter of the consecration to St. Joseph, and in early 2020 wrote a letter to the pope, which was hand-delivered to Francis, in which he asked for just such a year.

He’s the author of Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father, a book that has sold over 300,000 copies and is currently being translated into a dozen languages. Inspired by the book, many dioceses in the United States had announced 2021 to be a year dedicated to the patron of the Universal Church.

Calloway never got a response from Francis, and says that in no way is he taking credit for the pope’s appeal for Catholics to turn to Joseph. Nevertheless, he said, when it was announced, he experienced “a natural ecstasy” and immense gratitude to the pontiff.

“In my opinion, we need a year dedicated to St. Joseph for two reasons: Firstly, we have a real crisis in families right now, in the United States at least, where more than half of marriages end in divorce,” he told Crux over the phone earlier this year.

“In addition, marriage has been redefined today as well. There’s confusion, and a certain amount of what we call patricide, a killing of the fathers,” Callowey said. “The role of the father has been so reduced that it’s been replaced by other things, including in the Church.”

It’s necessary to look back to this saint, he argued, to realize the importance of fatherhood and to understand fatherhood correctly, because a lot of people have been hurt by fathers, both in their families but also in the Church.

“There’s been emotional abuse, physical abuse or even worse,” he said. “I think we need to recover the proper understanding of family.”

This illustration highlights several dates and feast days that Marian Father Donald Calloway, center, suggests Catholics consider when planning a 33-day “Consecration to St. Joseph.” Calloway is vicar provincial and vocation director for the Mother of Mercy Province of his order, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

Secondly, a year dedicated to Joseph was needed because he was the first missionary: “He took Jesus to another country, to Egypt. And today, we are facing a problem with our evangelization efforts. We’re not good at this at all, turning into more political things when the primary thing is Jesus Christ,” Callowey said.

“The times are changing, and people are still searching [for God], but sometimes, Christians today, we’re wimpy,” he said. “We don’t have that seal or courage. And I think St. Joseph helps us to be courageous.”

But rediscovering the role of St. Joseph, Calloway said, is not something only parents need to do: There are many priests and bishops, he said, confused about their roles, and St. Joseph can help.

“His humility is his holiness,” Calloway said. “In the culture we live in today, everybody wants a trophy. You can see so much of the clericalism the pope talks about – men who are only going through the ranks, seminary, priesthood, being made a bishop, and they still want more.”

“It does happen unfortunately in the Church, when the clergy becomes rulers and not servants, and here is where they need to look at St. Joseph,” he said, noting that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has a great quote: “Mary was not at the disposal of St. Joseph form him to do whatever he wanted with her, but he was there to protect her and serve her.”

“The same thing happens with a priest and the Church: The Church is not at our disposal, we cannot do with her whatever we want,” Calloway argued. “We have to honor her, respect her, love her and die for her, and that’s how us priests and bishops need to rediscover St. Joseph.”

When it comes to rediscovering the role of men within the family, the priest said that there’s a need to remember that the role of parents is not a competition but complementarity: “When you have the father and mother, you’re not saying one is better than the other because they fulfill a particular role, because both roles are needed.”

“Traditionally, we’d talk about the man being the head, but today everybody is politically correct and freaks out with this,” he said. “We’re not saying that by being the head the father is better, because the woman is the heart, and every body needs both the head and the heart. You can’t have one or the other, and both are roles of service.”

The priest believes there’s a need to re-understand some things that, when understood correctly, don’t trigger people. Among these is “manhood,” something with which many have had an “abusive experience.”

“We’ve seen this everywhere, and many people don’t want a man in their lives, and with good reason,” he said. “But if we get more men to act like Jesus or St. Joseph, with a humble, loving, strong attitude, with a strength to protect and honor you, it’d be different.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma