by the Rev. Paul McLain


When Ruthie and I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of our favorite places to visit was a small Gothic church on the Old Santa Fe Trail called the Loretto Chapel. It was built in 1873 and is still in use today. There is a legend about the chapel:

“When the Loretto Chapel was built, the architect forgot to include a way for the nuns to reach the choir loft. The sisters weighed their options and all were equally undesirable. They could build a conventional staircase, but that would take up too much room. They could rebuild the balcony, but that would be far too expensive. They could climb a dangerous ladder up and down, but that would be an accident waiting to happen. So, the nuns did what you and I should do when faced with a difficult situation — they prayed.”

One night while the sisters were praying about their predicament a white bearded stranger appeared at the door of the convent asking for work. A toolbox was strapped to his burro and he told the sisters he was a carpenter. When they told him their problem, he offered to build a spiral staircase. His spiral staircase was an engineering feat for all time, containing thirty-three steps and two complete turns of 360 degrees with no center support. The carpenter used wooden pegs instead of nails, and his only tools were a handsaw, a T-square, and a hammer. As soon as the staircase was finished, the unknown craftsman disappeared without asking to be paid.

Like the nuns back in 1873, many today believe the carpenter was indeed St.
Joseph. Maybe it is just a legend. But in this last week of Advent, I believe Joseph is out and about. In fact, I see him in many of you. He is out with a toolbox in hand, a model of faith who turns hopeless dilemmas into hopeful outcomes. Don’t expect lots of conversation from him. Rather, expect a demonstration of how to look at an impossible problem and build a stairway to heaven. Expect him to raise up for us, a savior who is Christ the Lord.

26 thoughts on “Joseph”

  1. Paul, I’m inspired by the legend. I’ll be on the lookout for Joseph, knowing that he will help me turn dilemmas into hopeful outcomes.

  2. The Loretto Chapel is a thin place for me, even without the Legend of St. Joseph. Thanks for the wonderful memories.

  3. Oh Paul, thank you. Losing more water weight with all these fallen tears. Your story is touching and wonderful!! I needed this today

  4. I don’t wish to denigrate Joseph’s story, but in its entirety, it could have come from Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar.
    Thanks, Paul.

  5. Paul, i presented you with a dilemma earlier this week. You offered an unexpected spiral staircase that has served me and my colleagues. THANK YOU!

  6. Thank you Paul. Pray pray and more prayers are graciously welcomed during Advent. I certainly see Joseph in YOU🥰

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