What St. Joseph’s Miraculous Staircase Teaches Me About Evangelization

With all the turmoil of the last year, it is easy and understandable that many have forgotten that we are in the Year of St. Joseph.  Pope Francis gave us this gift of a special year dedicated to a universal saint, from whom many of us could learn. 

One popular pilgrimage spot a few hours away from me is the staircase in Santa Fe that is said to have been built by the hands of St. Joseph himself! 

Why a staircase?

Sure, it can seem so small and beneath the work of the saint who watched over Jesus and His Mother. But a deeper look into the oft-quoted legend reveals a lot about the work of St. Joseph and how all of us can embrace the little things in great love. 

The Sisters of Loretto had made their way throughout the Western US as missionaries and school teachers, establishing a community and school in Santa Fe by the 1870’s. Of course, a good Catholic school needs a chapel and the sisters were in luck as the Archbishop had an architect and builders for the cathedral. 

When the chapel was consecrated, the chapel was a beautiful sight but there was one thing missing: a practical way to get to the choir loft. 

The Sisters could not use a ladder and the builders didn’t have a way to assemble a staircase within the small chapel. Not sure of a solution, the Sisters prayed a Novena to St. Joseph, a plan of nine prayers for nine days to St. Joseph.

Come the last day, a man came along with a donkey and some tools seeking work. The man and the Sisters agreed to building a spiral staircase. What the man built was an architectural marvel, a perfectly balanced spiral staircase that could only be done by a master craftsman. Even today, it is much admired by tourists and pilgrims alike. 

Miraculous stairs via Richard A. Weaver, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sisters were grateful but the man didn’t wait to receive their gratitude, much less payment and thus left after he finished. The sisters talked to the local lumberyard and even put an ad out to the paper but nobody could recall doing business with the man. 

Many historians have their theories, but the Sisters of Loreto believe that St. Joseph answered their simple-but-necessary prayer in person. Even though the Sisters of Loretto no longer have a presence, the Loretto Chapel is still open to all who want to see St. Joseph’s Miraculous Staircase. 

While it may seem bizarre that St. Joseph would build a staircase in New Mexico, I can’t help but see the very character of Joseph within this tale. Much like in the Gospels, Joseph didn’t need to say much, and he didn’t need to even hear a “thank you” to get the job done. Like a good father, St. Joseph leapt into quiet action with great love and brought the sisters a small miracle. Even if you don’t believe this stranger to be St. Joseph, you can still understand why such an act of charity by a stranger would feel like a miraculous sign. 

When I meditate on this small moment of saintly intervention, I can’t help but to think we need more St. Joseph’s doing such little miracles. We need people willing to be an answer to a prayer, no matter how insignificant. And if we receive these small miracles, we should be filled with unending gratitude and holy joy, even if somebody might scoff, “It’s just stairs!”

Catholic Exchange has its mission to make saints in our time, in our very little way. The last year, through my own sufferings and seeing the sufferings of the world, I have been wondering what it means to be saints. 

It can be daunting to see the martyrs, or even the life of St. Joseph. But all of us can help call upon these saints to be more than they were, but first they need the practical steps to begin. 

That’s where I want Catholic Exchange to be: a place where souls across the globe learn to be better, holier lovers of Christ and His Saints in short, approachable ways. And, I’m glad to say, that we’ve had tremendous success, with hundreds of thousands of monthly readers and listeners. 

Of course, all of this has overhead costs and that is why we rely so heavily on our supporters to continue and grow. Even in these post-COVID times, we have been blessed by the “little miracles” of donations we receive from our supporters.

If you have been blessed by the work of Catholic Exchange, I ask that you ask St. Joseph for our assistance and consider donating what you can. 

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Whether or not you are able to donate today, do keep us in your prayers as we seek the help of St. Joseph to bring saints into our world. And to all of our supporters, present and future, be assured of our prayers for you and our endless gratitude. We can’t do this without you and we thank you for the small miracles you provide, especially in these uncertain times. 

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Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash


Michael J. Lichens is the Editor of Catholic Exchange. When he's not revising and editing, he is often found studying and writing about GK Chesterton, Religion and Literature, or random points of local history. He holds an A.M. from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a BA from The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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