ST. LOUIS--The name St. Joseph seems to be all around us. Citiesin Missouri, Illinois, and at least five other states bear his name. At least27 Catholic churches in the St. Louis and Belleville, Ill., dioceses arecalled St. Joseph. Schools and hospitals bear his name. In this region,thousands of Christians are given the name of this first-century Jewishcarpenter in baptism as a first, or, even more commonly, as a second name.

Until now there have been few books about him.

Most Christians can identify Joseph as Mary's husband. He's Jesus'stepfather, the man with a beard, and usually a lantern, in the ChristmasNativity scene.

The gospels of Matthew and Luke say he was a descendant of King Davidand a carpenter. Joseph acted on his dreams. In one dream, he was told not todivorce Mary because the Holy Spirit was the father of the child in Mary'swomb. Both writers stress that Mary was a virgin.

After the Magi visited the newborn Jesus, Joseph dreamed that he wasto get up immediately and flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. The familyrushed to escape the jealous Palestinian King Herod's edict to kill all malenewborns who might be the Magi's "king of the Jews." Joseph makes his lastappearance in Scripture when Jesus, then 12, is lost after the familyvisited the Temple in Jerusalem.

Many people want to know more about Joseph.

"People are always calling our archives asking for information aboutJoseph," said Sister Charline Sullivan, archivist at the Sisters of St.Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse in Carondelet, Mo. "The reality aboutJoseph is that he is sort of in a vacuum--the silent saint."

Sullivan has stacks of prayers and hymns but few books about Joseph.

Since 1837, when her order arrived in this area,its sisters--410 live in the region today--always encouraged interest inJoseph. Many Christians, especially Eastern Orthodox Christians andCatholics, venerate Joseph.

Revived interest in men's spirituality among many denominations hasmade Joseph the topic of men's retreats and church study groups. Mostsecular and Christian bookstores in St. Louis have no books on Joseph.

"People ask for books on Joseph because he is such a good example forliving day in and day out," said Michael Murphy, book buyer at the threeCatholic Supply stores here.

Now, a company owned by Protestants in Texas--Summit Publishing--ispublishing a book on Joseph and male spirituality. It was written by apriest and amateur archaeologist from O'Fallon, Mo.

The Rev. Gerald Joseph Kleba said he wrote "Joseph Remembered" because there are few examples of compassionate,yet fearless men in a culture that prizes machismo.

"There is so much quality writing about women's spirituality and solittle for men," said Kleba, 58, an associate pastor at ImmaculateConception Catholic Church-Dardenne.

"Men can feel lost. And as women become more confident, the men feeleven more lost. Men want to be able to look at someone and say, 'I want tobe like that.'"

They can learn compassion from Joseph, Kleba said. When Joseph foundMary pregnant--knowing he was not the father--he had the right to divorceher. He could have had his revenge as she was stoned. But Joseph laterbravely led Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

Kleba's interest in the carpenter began when he was in grade school atResurrection School in St. Louis' Dutchtown neighborhood. The sisters alwayssaid, "Go to Joseph" when [students] were concerned about something. In1954, Kleba, then in seventh grade, "went to Joseph" and prayed about hiswish to become a priest. That year, his parish completed a new church with aterra cotta statue of Joseph by Kirkwood sculptor Hillis Arnold, the priestsaid as he was interviewed in his childhood parish church this week.

After Kleba was ordained a priest in 1967, Kleba began to bring Josephout of the "dim shadows into the center stage" as he counseled couplespreparing for marriage. He talked about Joseph as he helped young men tryingto support and spend time with their families. Annually on March 19,Joseph's feast day, and again on May 1, the feast of Joseph the Laborer, hewould preach about Joseph.

With the help of biblical scholars, archaeologists, the JewishTalmud, and the Dead Sea scrolls, Kleba learned more. The Greek word tekton--translated as "carpenter" in English editions of the New Testament--has awider meaning of handy, skilled craftsman. Joseph probably made plows,pulleys, and tool handles. He would have been good at measuring beforecarving scarce wood into an oxen yoke so it would not chafe and slow theanimal. In the Jewish Talmud book of Levy: 336, Kleba found a reference thatsuggested if the rabbi in a town was unavailable, the carpenter should beconsulted.

"So, Joseph would have been considered a wise man," said Kleba. Joseph was on Kleba's mind when he volunteered on an archaeologicaldig during a sabbatical in Israel in the 1980s.

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