In my family, we have been devoted to the patron saint of test-takers, airline pilots & passengers, astronauts, and those with learning disabilities for at least three generations. It began when my grandparents taught their children a simple, age-old prayer to St. Joseph of Cupertino. Who was this remarkable Italian saint, and why is he so revered?
A Quick Bio of an Unusual Saint
Taken from The Catholic Company’s Get Fed blog:
Giuseppe really didn’t have any skills. He was considered exceedingly dull as a child, and seemed incapable of learning anything. He performed poorly in school, couldn’t seem to keep his focus on the simplest things, and failed at apprenticeships as a teenager. He would “space out” frequently and even wander off at times.
When he tried to join the Capuchin Franciscans in the hopes of finding his place in the world, he was accepted for a time. Then they sent him away because of his lack of ability to do…anything. In addition to his apparent unintelligence, the bouts of distraction continued, wherein he was seemingly whisked away by some pious thought while he was supposed to be occupied with a practical task.
He tried again with a different community of Franciscans as a servant, and things began to improve. The Franciscans noticed how humble Giuseppe was, how full of joy, how simple; indeed, he was what a model Franciscan should be. He was readmitted to the Order, and began studies for the priesthood.
But study was still his weakness, and he found himself unable to learn what he needed to know. There was only one Scripture passage he could talk about: Luke 11:27, “Blessed is the womb that bore you.” When it came time for his diaconate test, his prospects looked grim—but as God would have it, he was asked during his exam to speak on exactly that passage, and speak he did! A deacon he became, and eventually a priest—and is now known as the patron saint of test-takers.
Giuseppe’s episodes of abstraction continued, and with immense fervor. He would be lost for long periods of time in contemplation at the beauty of God, completely taken away from this world to the other. It appeared that his trademark absent-mindedness was something far deeper than that. He had an incredible connection to God, who chose to reveal Himself in ways that made Giuseppe lose himself in wonder.
And did we mention that he flew? Levitation was a normal part of this mystical friar’s life. He would fly across the chapel; when he heard the names of Jesus and Mary; at the refectory table; outside when in awe at the beauty of creation, et cetera. He is now also known as the patron of aviators!
Though Giuseppe was beloved by the poor he served, his mystical experiences did not always gain him the favor of his brethren. He was reported to the Inquisition for his unusual behavior. Although they found nothing against him, he was eventually put into seclusion, never really returning to normal life. He spent twenty-five years this way, accepting everything with resignation and patience. He died on September 18th, 1663.
Is it any wonder St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of test-takers, airline pilots and passengers, paratroopers, the Air Force, astronauts, and those with learning disabilities? He is certainly versatile, but each of his patronages fits him perfectly.
This saint for whom worldly knowledge was such a burden rose to the heights, his soul filled with the knowledge of God and drawn up into rapture and glory.
Labeled as unintelligent by all who knew him, he was in fact a man of many supernatural gifts. These eluded the world and mystified those who did not understand how God works in each of his children.
A Family Devotion
My family’s devotion started with a special prayer my maternal and paternal grandparents taught their children. My parents taught it to me, and I taught it to my own kids. It’s our family tradition to pray to St. Joseph of Cupertino—a devotion I hope continues for generations to come.
All of my great-grandparents emigrated here from Italy through Ellis Island in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Like many immigrants, they had minimal education and found work in their new country as unskilled laborers. They worked on the railroads and sold vegetables from carts, hoping to make a better life for their children and themselves in America.
They did not go to college. They lacked the resources for such extravagances. After both my grandfathers completed eighth grade, they left school and went to work.
Pushing vegetable carts, driving bread trucks, working at family stores, and cutting beef carcasses with a chain saw for the local butcher, they labored for their families. Over time, with perseverance and by God’s grace, their children and grandchildren became military veterans, grocery store and restaurant owners, merchants, commercial property owners, and college graduates with successful careers.
Perhaps that’s why they recognized education as such a great privilege. When both my parents were young students in Catholic school, their parents taught them this prayer to St. Joseph of Cupertino:
O’ great St. Joseph of Cupertino, who while on earth did obtain from God
the grace to be asked at your examinations only the questions you knew,
obtain for me a like favor in the examination for which I am now preparing.
In return, I promise to make you known and cause you to be invoked, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Patron of Test-Takers
My parents prayed the prayer to St. Joseph before they took their tests in school. Their generation was the first to go to college. My father always said St. Joseph of Cupertino was his “go-to” for schoolwork and tests.
Sometimes this happened as I was crying in anger and frustration, throwing my calculus or physics book across the room while he tried to explain a concept…
Daddy once confessed to hedging his bet in Latin by praying to St. Jerome as his backup, then taking him as his confirmation saint! We did not consider that to be an insult to our beloved St. Joseph of Cupertino. Daddy thought of it as an indicator of his need, not St. Joseph’s limitations!
Patron of Astronauts
Paying for his own education, my father earned his Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, then went to work on the Apollo Space Flight Missions in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It is not lost on us that St. Joseph of Cupertino was also the patron saint of astronauts and aviators.
Our special saint continued to be a fitting patron as Daddy worked in aerospace systems. It was yet another example of God’s perfect symmetry, and how our saints often choose us through the Holy Spirit—even as we believe we are choosing them.
During this time in my parent’s marriage, my siblings and I were born. Mama and Daddy taught us the St. Joseph of Cupertino prayer in our youth, just as their parents had taught them. We prayed it together in the mornings when I had a test at school. My mother wrote it down for me before I had memorized it.
On test days, she would make me a hot breakfast, insist I eat everything on my plate, then lead me in the prayer. I wish I still had her handwritten copy.
I can hear her like it was just yesterday, telling me, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” and praying the prayer aloud with me as I kissed her good-bye, hastily gathered my books, and ran outside to catch the school bus.
Three Generations of Devotion
I shared our special prayer with Catholic friends in college. I used to leave it in the pews in the Newman Center at the University of North Carolina as my way of making St. Joseph of Cupertino known and causing him to be invoked. We grew even closer during integral calculus, physics, and my time in Business School!
Several years ago I went back to the Newman Center with one of our daughters. Lo and behold, there was a wonderful, full-color brochure containing St. Joseph’s picture and our special prayer. I was delighted to see it available to everyone.
When I had my own children, I taught them the prayer very early. We prayed it before spelling tests when they were little and more complicated exams as they aged.
One of our daughters was more bold about sharing the prayer with her Catholic friends. “After all,” she once told me while printing copies to leave in the narthex, “we have to hold up our end of the deal. The prayer says we promise to make him known and cause him to be invoked.” She’s always been a stickler for details.
She was a biochemistry major, so it was a great blessing to know St. Joseph of Cupertino would intercede for her in college. For a few rough semesters, she proclaimed in frustration, “I don’t think he’s working for me anymore! I might be done with him if he doesn’t turn things around soon!”
I kept praying to him on her behalf in holy confidence, whether she did or not. I think his perceived inactivity on her behalf was more about the mind-boggling aspects of biochemistry than it was about our patron. I knew he would not forsake us after three generations of devotion. In the end, he prevailed, and she graduated with honors.
My younger daughter remained quietly and faithfully devoted to St. Joseph and his prayer. We continue to pray it together now that she’s in college. She’s always been a straight “A” student, with prayer, hard work, God’s grace, and St. Joseph of Cupertino’s intercession.
What Goes Around Comes Around
School has been challenging for our youngest. We did not understand why until he was diagnosed with some learning issues after his teachers suggested testing. It’s been a long road, but our patron has been faithful every step of the way.
Our son is in high school now. He does well in school and remains dedicated, though he has to study very hard. On test days, I make him a nice hot breakfast like my mother made me. After he eats, we pray the prayer aloud together, just like I did with my parents.
In fact, we prayed it this morning before tests in Political Science and Entrepreneurship.
Sometimes he’s still praying while dashing out the front door to the bus stop, but he shouts the prayer along with me as he runs down our driveway. We never skip it on a test day, no matter the circumstances.
Recently I was out of town on a test day, but we agreed to pray to St. Joseph together by phone at 6:45 am on my son’s walk to the bus stop. I called his mobile phone and we prayed together.
After we hung up, he texted me a thumbs up emoji and a heart.
I replied with an airplane emoji, in honor of our beloved “Flying Saint.”
My son responded by texting me a flexed muscle emoji and another heart.
Times may change, but the rich inheritance of our Faith endures, and so does our family’s legacy of devotion.
Have you ever prayed to St. Joseph of Cupertino before a test?
Does your family have a special patron saint you pray to?
Let us know in the comments below!