When Susan Sullivan began her position as Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Vice President of Mission and Ministry in January, she noticed something that she thought seemed odd.
“I had noticed that there were very few items in the hospital that pertain to St. Joseph,” she said. “There just was not much at all that represented him.”
When Sullivan mentioned this to her longtime friend, Julie Magri, a retired physician who lives in Decatur, Georgia, a light bulb came on in Magri’s head.
It just so happened that Magri’s father, Leo R. Magri, who died in 2014, was a devoted follower of St. Joseph and had collected many statues and other items representing him.
In fact, when Magri’s parents relocated from their home in Holyoke, Massachusetts to live with her in Georgia, Magri set aside a room in her home where her father could store his religious papers, books and other items, many of which depicted St. Joseph.
Sullivan was delighted when Magri offered to share some of her father’s collection, and Magri shared her delight.
“I’m thrilled to find such a fitting home for these things that were so important to my father,” Magri said. “I think it’s providence, actually.
The items, including a framed print and several statues, the largest of which is displayed in the hospital’s chapel, were given to the hospital in honor of Leo Magri, who Julie Magri characterized as “a man of great faith, and a great man.”
Leo, a second generation grocer in Holyoke, so admired St. Joseph that for 33 years he arranged and led pilgrimages to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada, sometimes filling several buses with people who wanted to participate.
He also had a statue built in the likeness of St. Joseph, replicating one displayed at the Oratory. The statue was placed on a 25-foot-high pole and erected on a narrow strip of land that Leo owned, towering over traffic moving along a major highway and overlooking the town of Holyoke.
When asked the reason for her father’s great devotion to St. Joseph, Magri said that, while she was very close to her father and knew a lot about his life, she wasn’t exactly sure what precipitated Leo’s love for the saint.
“I didn’t question it, just like I don’t question the air that I breathe,” Magri said. “My father’s love for St. Joseph predated the time when he became a father, and it was just something that his children grew up with. It was a natural as the air that we breathe.”
With Penn State Health St. Joseph now in possession of some of Leo Magri’s collection, Sullivan is hopeful that hospital employees and patients will become more aware of the saint, who is known as the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary.
While not much about Joseph is found in the Bible, he is regarded as the patron saint of workers, and was declared by Pope Pius IX to be the patron and protector of the Catholic Church. He also is patron of the sick and patron of a happy death, presumably because he was in the presence of Mary and Jesus at the time of his own death.
A stained glass window depicting the death of St. Joseph is among Penn State Health St. Joseph’s collection of framed windows from its original chapel, located throughout the hospital. The one depicting the death of St. Joseph can be found on the Garden level, near the cafeteria.
St. Joseph is an important figure in the hospital’s Catholic identity, Sullivan said, and important in reminding staff members that their work is blessed.
“We’re about continuing the healing ministry of Jesus,” Sullivan said. “We know that everything that happens here requires teamwork. So, we have the teamwork of the people in the hospital, but also that of a heavenly presence.”
Penn State Health St. Joseph’s values of reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence must extend to every aspect of hospital life.
“The idea of the coming and going of life is a daily reality here,” Sullivan said. “And, we must always keep in mind the idea of accompanying people where they are, and of being present in a very compassionate, healing way.”
Magri hopes that the St. Joseph items she donated to the hospital will provide spiritual strength to patients and staff.
“I just hope that they bring some spiritual nourishment to those who see them,” Magri said. “That would be important to my father.”