LEADERSHIP ETHICS IN THE LIGHT OF ST. JOSEPH BY REV FR. NGBEA GABRIEL St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Chaplaincy, Federal University of Lafia Nasarawa State. A paper Presented at the Lafia Diocesan Closing Celebration of the Year of ST. JOSEPH at ST. WIlliams Cathedral, Lafia. Date: 03.12.2021 Time: 10:00am

Your Excellency Most Revd. Dr. David Ajang, The Catholic Bishop of Lafia Diocese, Very Rev Fr’s,  Superiors Rev. FRS. Women Religious and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Let me begin by perceling an elephant thanksto my Lord for the golden opportunity of my choice out of many credible alternatives to share with you the Christian Community of Lafia diocese about ST. Joseph in answer to the holy fathers call as we conclude at the diocesan level, the activities making the special year of St. Joseph declared by the Holy father, Pope Francis with the Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (with a fathers heart) from 8 December, 2020 to 8 December, 2021 to mark the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal church. This is not an opportunity for me to flex my intellectual muscles, it is rather a humbing exercise for us to reflect together on the life of this humble, obscure and low profile personality who played a central role in the history of or salvation.


A descendant of the house of king David in line with all the messianic prophesies from Nazareth, Galilee region of Palestine, the earthly father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary’s husband is the patron of the universal Catholic Church whose principal feast day is on March 19 and feast of Joseph the worker in May 1 according to the churches liturgical calendar. His life history is recorded in all the gospel’s  with more details in Matthew and Luke who speak more about Him though with scanty information, yet enough for us to appreciate what sort of father He was to Jesus and husband to virgin Mary and the Mission entrusted to Him by God’s providence. All the four gospels without an exception refers to our Lord Jesus Christ as “The Son of Joseph” because of the way Joseph cared and loved Jesus. (Cf. Lk. 4:22, John 6:42, Matt. 13:55 and Mk 6:3).

After he got married to Mary, He found Her already pregnant and“ being a righteous Man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace” (Matthew 1: 19). He decided to divorce her quietly, but an angel told him in a dream that the child was a son of God and was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Obeying the Angel, he took Mary as his wife.  After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judaea, where the Holy family received the Magi, an angel warned Joseph and Mary about the impending danger against the child by King Herod the great of Judaea, where upon they fled to Egypt. There the angel again appeared to Joseph , Informing Him of Herod’s death and instructing them to return to the Holy Land.

Avoiding Bethlehem out of fear of Herod’s successor, the Holy family settled in Nazareth (Matt. 2:22-23) in Galilee where Joseph taught his craft of carpentry to Jesus. Joseph is last mentioned in the gospels where He and Mary frantically searched for the lost young Jesus in Jerusalem, where they found him in the temple. (Lk. 2: 41-49). The circumstances of Joseph’s death are unknown , except that he probably died before Jesus’ pubic ministry began and was certainly death before the crucifixion. (cf. John 19: 26-29).

The veneration  of Joseph seems to have begun in Egypt, the earliest western devotion to him date from early 14th century when the Servites, an order of mendicant friars observed His feast on March 19, the traditional day of His death. Subsequently, the devotion was promoted by Pope Sixtus IV who introduced it at Rome about 1479, and the celebrated 16th –century mystic, St. Teresa of Avila. Already Patron of Mexico, Canada and Belgium St. Joseph was declared Patron of the universal church by Pope Pius in 1870. In 1955, Pope Pius XII established the feast of St. Joseph the worker on May 1 as a counter celebration to the communist May Day.

Apart from declaring a year of St. Joseph in a new Apostolic letter,  entitled “Patris Corde” by Pope Francis I, the letter marks the 150th anniversary of the blessed Pope Pius IX’’s declaration of St. Joseph as the Patron of the universal church beginning on the solemnity of the immaculate conception 2020 and extending to the same feast in 2020, the Pope has also included St. Joseph in our  Eucharistic prayers which is the highest form of prayer in the Catholic Church.


As a background to our celebration of 150th anniversary of St. Joseph as patron of the universal church, it is important to refresh our memories of the noble intention of Pius IX captured in His Apostolic letter Quemadmodum Deus while making a case and a passionate appeal to entrust himself and all the faithful  to the Patriarch St. Joseph’s most powerful patronage. In His own words contained in the decree by the sacred congregation of Rites that was promulgated on December 8, 1870 which communicated the decision of Pope Pius IX to declare St. Joseph Patron of the universal church and I quote;

As almighty God appointed Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob, over all the land of Egypt to save grains  for the people, so when the fullness of time had come and He was about to send to earth his only-begotten son, the savior of the world. He chose another Joseph of whom the first had been the type, and he made him the Lord and chief of His household and possessions.

Indeed the guardian of His choicest treasures Joseph had as his spouse the immaculate virgin Mary of whom was born by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ our Lord, who deigned to be reputed in the sight of men as the Son of Joseph, and was subjected to Him. Joseph played a significant role in our salvation history by diligently raising up Jesus whom today we all receive as the bread that came down from heaven  in order to obtain eternal life. Because of this sublime dignity which God conferred on His most faithful servant-Joseph, the church has always most highly honoured and praised Blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the virgin mother of God and it is the same reason why on the 150th anniversary ( 8th December, 2020) of the proclamation of Joseph as the patron of the universal church , the Holy Father Pope Francis has declared the year of St. Joseph –spanning up to 8th December, 2021- with a most powerful teaching on the patriarch in the Apostolic letter Patris Corde (With a Fathers Heart).

Following from the directives of our own Bishop, Most Revd Dr. David Ajang, I’m sure the letter is read and studied at all pastoral levels of the diocese; diocesan, deanery, Parish, Zonal and station levels and within Pious organizations in the diocese . It is the hope that as the Holy father said;

The study of the Apostolic letter and the observance of the year of St. Joseph will increase our love for this great saint… encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.


That is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all the four gospels refer to as “ the Son of Joseph”, Joseph, summarily, from the  Holy fathers letter, was a lowly carpenter (Matt. 13:5), betrothed to Mary(Matt. 1:18; Lk. 1:27). He was a “just man” (Matt. 1:19), ever ready to carryout Gods work as revealed to him in the law. (Lk. 2:22,27,39) and through four dreams (Mtt. 1:20; 2:13,19,22). After a long and tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem,  He beheld the birth of the Messiah in a stable, Since “ there was no place for them” elsewhere (Lk. 2:7). He witness the adoration of shepherds  (Lk.2:8-20).  And the Magi (Matt. 2:1-12), who represented respectively the people of Israel and the  Pegan peoples. Joseph had the courage to become the legal father of Jesus to whom he gave the name revealed by the angel “ You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from sins” (Mtt. 1:21).

In the temple, forty days after Jesus birth, Joseph and Mary offered their child to the Lord and listened with amazements to Simeone’s prophecy concerning Jesus from Herod, Joseph dwelt as a foreigner in Egypt (Mtt. 2:13-18).  After returning to his own country he led a hidden life in a tiny and obscure village of Nazareth in Galilee, far from Bethlehem, his ancestral town and from Jerusalem and the temple. During a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary lost track of the twelve-year old Jesus, they anxiously sought him out and they found him in the temple, in discussion with the Doctors of the law (LK. 2:41-50).

After Mary the mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the Papal Magisterium than Joseph, her spouse. Blessed Pius IX declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church”, venerable Pius XII proposed him as “ Patron of workers” and Saint John Paul II as “guardian of the Redeemer  “Saint Joseph is universally invoked as the patron of a happy death”.

His Holiness Pope Francis 1 in his letter shared his personal reflection on this extraordinary figure during the Corona virus pandemic when humanity experienced amid the crises, how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked, people who do not appear in newspapers and magazines and headlines, or on the latest television shows, yet in this very day are surely shaping the decisive events of our history.  Doctors, Nurses, Store Keepers, and Supermarket workers, Cleaning personnel, Caregivers, Transport Workers, men and women working to provide essential services to public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religions  and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone….. How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic but share responsibility.

How many fathers, mothers, grand parents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crises by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer? How many are praying making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all “ Each of us according to the Holy Father can discover in Joseph-the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence-an intercessor, a support  and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.


The root word for leadership is lead, which means to go, travel or guide. Leadership involves a process or better put, a movement towards a goal. It is from the Latin root word for leaders, Ledere. Ledere literally means “to go before” it means being an example , showing the way, taking risks and using initiatives . For Monroe (2005), leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by a passion, generated by a vision, produced by conviction, ignited by a purpose . Leadership involves attempt on the part of a leader  to affect the behavior of a follower or followers in a giving situation.

Talking about leadership in  the church has always been a topic of heated debate since the catholic Church is dogmatic in its deposit of faith and hierarchically structured and it is considered to be the most successful organized society on earth over time but no body knows the system of  government the church operates and it will be out of question to probe into that since the church operates in two realms that are fused together, i.e the visible and the invisible , the human and the divine, the material and the spiritual. But since church leaders also like other leaders, leads, take decisions, influence others and motivate the followers to the highest performance, its important to also discuss church leadership. But there is something unique about church leadership,

Church leadership has a faith vision which is based on inspiration and revelation . It has a specific mission, the establishment of the kingdom of God. (Mtt. 6:10) and its source of authority is the scripture, tradition and magisterium. (Adama, 299)

To be a church leader, one must be a Christian. A church leader is one who leads through inspiration  by the life and the teachings of Jesus Christ as a model. Consequently, The essential difference between Christians leadership is the concerted effort of the leader to give glory to God in all he or she does. The Christian leader operates on the physical wo10rld,but his or her vision and all that leadership requires  must be in harmony with what the scripture and the whole Christian tradition teach in conformity with the person, life and teaching of Jesus Christ. (Abela, 2016).

Over the years the Catholic Church has written a lot of literature on leadership. This writings resolves largely on two types of leadership, i.e the servant and the shepherd models. The church believes that her laders are called not to be masters over the people but servant and/or shepherds. Saint John Paul II in a post Synod Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (I will give you shepherds) bring out strongly the image of the priest being a shepherd in the following words;

Priests are called to prolong the presence of Christ, the one high priest embodying his way of life and making him visible in the midst of the flocks entrusted to their care . We find this clearly and precisely stated in the first letter of Peter “ I exhort the leaders as a fellow elder, and a witness of the suffering of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God, that is your charge, not by constraints but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly , not as domineering over those in your charge but being example to the flock. And when the chief priest is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory” (IPeter 5:1-4).

Priests as leaders of Christian communities must also know that it is not only acting in the name of Christ , the chief shepherd but they lead and act in the name of the church as well. Consequently, Saint John Paul continues;

The Priests fundamental relationship is with Jesus Christ, head and Shepherd. Indeed the priest participates in a specific and authoritative way in the consecration, anointing and in the mission of Christ. (cf Lk. 4:18-19). But intimately linked to this relationship is the priest relationship with the church., (991),

If the priest is to lead like a shepherd after Christ,  he must then posses the qualities of a good shepherd and must have the capacity to relate with others as an important quality since the priest is called to be responsible for the community;

He should seek to reflect in himself, as far as possible the human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate son of God and which is reflected with particular liveliness in his attitude toward others as we see narrated in the Gospels. He must not be arrogant or quarrelsome but affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening himself to clear and brotherly relationships and of encouraging the same in others and quick to understand, forgive and console. (101). 

Leadership for the priest is a divine mandate since the priest is a representative of Christ on earth. In this regard, the priest is rightly called “ Alter Christus” (Another Christ). The Bishop himself, a priest ,but who shares in the fullness of the priesthood from which all priest share, is rightly called a shepherd. He thus carries the mitre which is a symbol of one called to protect the sheep of Christ entrusted in his care within a diocese. Priest are therefore expected to lead after the mind of Christ as servants and shepherds.


Leadership ethics in the light of St. Joseph will take us back to Patris corde of the Holy Father to elucidate more comprehensively his reflection in line with leadership using St. Joseph as a model. The Holy Fathers Patris corde helps us to see more clearly the importance of ordinary people who provided leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, though far from the limelight, they exercise patience and offer hope to the people on daily basis, they resemble Saint Joseph, the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence who nonetheless, played an incomparable role  in the history of Salvation. This is an invitation for us to emulate the leadership qualities of Saint Joseph under the following headings of His Holiness Patris Corde.


The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus. In this way, He placed himself in the words of Saint John Chrysostom “at the service of the entire plan of salvation”. In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God , the one that helps us accept our weakness because “it is through” and despite our fears, our fragilities and our weaknesses  that most divine designs are realized. It is by encountering Gods mercy, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation that we experience His truth and tenderness. God’s  truth does not condemn us, but instead, welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives us. As leaders we must be ready like Saint Joseph to make sacrifices in other to effectively serve our followers with love not counting our loses or what we tend to benefit  from services rendered.


Joseph saw Jesus grow daily “in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour” (Lk.2:52). In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: “ As a father has compassion for his children, so the lord has compassion for those who fear him”. (Ps. 103: 13). The History of salvation is worked out “in hope against hope” (Rom. 4:18), through  our weaknesses. All too often, we think that God works only through our better parts, yet most of his plans are realized in and despite our frailty. As leaders we must learn to look upon our weaknesses with tender mercy. Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us. Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of an inability to accept our own  weaknesses, our own frailty.

Even through Josephs fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph then teaches us that faith in God include believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that as leaders amidst the tempest of life, we must never be afraid to let the lord steer our course. At times we want to be in complete control yet, God always sees the bigger picture.


As  he had done with Mary, God revealed his saving plan to Joseph. He did so by using dreams, Joseph was deeply troubled by Mary’s mysterious pregnancy. He did not want to “expose her to public disgrace” so he decided to dismiss her quietly (Mtt. 1:19).

In the first dream, an angel helps him to resolve his grave dilemma. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceive in her is from the holy spirit, She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Mtt. 1:20-21). When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. (Mtt. 1:24). Obedience made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties and spare Mary. The same obedience is shown by Joseph in all the subsequent dreams i.e (Mtt. 2:13, 14-15; Mtt. 2:19-21, Mtt. 2:22-23, Lk. 2: 7; 21-24.).

In His role as the head of the family, Joseph taught Jesus to be obedient to his parents (cf. Lk. 2:51). We as leaders must teach our followers the importance of obedience to the will of God in every situation. During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the father. That will was to be his daily food (cf. Jn. 4:34). Even at the most difficult moment of his life , in Gethsemane, Jesus chose to do the fathers will rather that his own, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:8)


Joseph accepted Mary unconditionally. He trusted in the angels words. The nobility of Joseph’s heart is such that what he learned from the law he made dependent of charity. The gesture of Joseph is very important even today, says pope Francis “in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident “Joseph appears as a figure of a respectful and sensitive man. Even though he does not understand the bigger picture, he made a decision to protect Mary’s good name, her dignity and her life.

Often in life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and rebellion. Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history, unless we are reconciled with our own history we will be unable to take a single step forward for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow.

Just as God told Joseph; son of David, do not be afraid! (Mtt. 1:20). So he seems to tell us. “Do not be afraid” We need to set aside all anger and disappointments and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. Good can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (I Jn. 3:20). The apostle Paul can say: “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love the God”. (Room 8:28). To which our very own Saint Augustine adds  “even that which is called evil (etiam illud quod malum dicitur)”.  In this greater perspective, faith gives meaning to every event, however happy or sad.

Joseph’s attitude encourage us to accept and welcome others as they are , without exception and to show special concern for the weak as leaders in our various communities. Joseph did not look for shortcuts but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for every situation.


Patris corde highlight the creative courage of St. Joseph which emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. “The carpenter of Nazareth explains the Pope was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting in divine providence. He had to deal with the concrete problems his family faced. Problems faced by other families all over the world. Creative courage emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties as leaders. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we do not even think we had. As we read the infancy narratives it is clear that God acted by trusting in Joseph’s creative courage.

Arriving in Bethlehem and finding no lodging, where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable and, as best he could turned it into a welcoming home for the son of God come into the world  (cf. LK. 2: 6-7).  Faced with imminent danger from Herod,  who wanted to kill the child, Joseph was warned once again in a dream to protect the child, and rose in the middle of the night to prepare the flight into Egypt (cf. Mtt. 2:13-14)

A superficial reading of these stories can often give the impression that the world is at the mercy of the strong and mighty, but the good news “of the gospel consists in showing that, for all the arrogance and violence of worldly powers, God always find a way to carry out his saving plan. So too, our life’s may at times seem to be at the mercy of the powerful, but the Gospel shows us what counts. God always find a way to save us , provided we show the same creative courage as the carpenter of Nazareth who was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence.

In this sense, St. Joseph is the special patron of all those forced to leave their native land because of war, Fulani Jihadist, Islamic fundamentalist, terrorists, hatred, persecution and poverty. As the guardian of Jesus and Mary, Joseph cannot be other than the guardian of the church of her motherhood and of the Body of Christ. Consequently every poor, needy, suffering or dying person, every stranger, every prisoner, every infirm person is the child whom Joseph continues to protect. From St. Joseph writes Pope Francis,  we as leaders must learn…to love the church and the poor.


An aspect of Saint Joseph that has been emphasized from the time of the first social Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, in his relation to work. Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour. In our own present society , where employment has ones more become a burning social issue, and unemployment at times reaches record levels, there is need to appreciate the importance of dignified work , of which saint Joseph is an exemplary patron.

Work according to Pope Francis is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. Working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us. The crises of our time, which is economic, social, cultural and spiritual can serve as a summons for all of us to rediscover the value, the importance and necessity of work for bringing about a new normal from which no one is excluded.

As church leaders and leaders of communities, we have a responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living since government alone cannot create all the Jobs. We must encourage dignity of labour and avoid taking advantage of people through cheap labour, poor remuneration and poor working conditions in our parishes and other institutions. We can only speak of human dignity in the manner in which we treat our cooks, drivers , security men and house helps. Let us implore Saint Joseph the worker to help us find ways to express our firm conviction that no young person, no person at all, no family should be without work.


The Polish writer Jan Debraczynski in his book the shadow of the father, tells the story of Saints Joseph’s life in the form of a novel. He uses the evocative image of a shadow to define Joseph in his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly father, he watched over Jesus and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way. Father’s are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world  but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accept responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person. Unfortunately in today’s society children often seem orphans, lacking father’s, who are able to introduce them to life and reality. Children the Pope says need fathers who will not try to dominate them, but instead raise them to be able to be capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities.

This is the sense in which St. Joseph is described as a most chaste father which is the opposite of domineering possessiveness. Joseph, says Holy Father knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things. He did not think of himself but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus”. Joseph stands out as an extraordinary figure for our time in a world that needs fathers and not tyrants, a society that rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with welfare mentality, power with destruction. Being a father the Pope emphasizes has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a sign pointing to a greater fatherhood, that of the heavenly father.

Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice. The priesthood and consecrated life likewise requires this kind of maturity, whatever our vocation whether to marriage, celibacy or virginity, our gift of self will not come to fulfillment if it stops at sacrifice; were that the case, instead of becoming a sign of beauty and Joy of Love, the gift of self would risk being an expression of unhappiness, sadness and frustration.

As leaders, we must do everything within our reach to encourage responsible parentalhood in our country in order to avoid child abuse because of absentee and irresponsible fathers, and discourage single Parenthood in our modern society where ‘baby mama’ is the order of the day. Every child deserves a Joseph as a father for proper upbringing that will midwife responsible families, societies, countries and a better world.

According to Vatican news (2020), in His letter , Pope Francis concludes by noting that;

Everyday, for over forty years following lauds (morning prayer), He has recited a prayer of Saint Joseph taken from a nineteenth century French prayer book of the congregation of the sisters of Jesus and Mary “This prayer He says, expresses devotion and trust, and even posses a certain challenge to Saint Joseph” on account of his closing words: “ My beloveth father, all my trust is in you, let it not be said I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power..”

At the conclusion of His letter, His Holiness Pope Francis I adds another prayer to St. Joseph which he encourages all of us to pray together as we say;

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,

Spouse of the blessed Virgin Mary.

To you God entrusted His Holy son;

 in you Mary placed her trust;

with you Christ  became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life.

Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.



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