Since its first observance in 1910 when Sonora Dodd proposed a celebration to honor her father — a Civil War veteran raising six children alone following the death of his wife — Father’s Day has been a time when fathers throughout the country are honored on the third Sunday in June. The practice was eventually made an official U.S. holiday in 1972.

In the Church, however, fathers have been honored through the example of St. Joseph as far back as the 10th century when Joseph’s life was celebrated in Rome. Pope Pius V extended the celebration to the entire Church in 1570 while Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph as the Church’s patron and protector in 1870.

Pope Francis has often spoken about St. Joseph, whose silence in the Gospels, in spite of his being chosen by God as the earthly father of Jesus, is reflective of the many fathers devoted to their families who fulfill their vocation quietly, striving to the bring Jesus into the heart of the family.

In this faith-filled and essential role, St. Joseph continues to be a model for Catholic fathers, among them Conor Cook, who with his wife and family of four young children, ages 10, 8, 5 and 2, are members of St. Augustine Parish in Montpelier.

Reflecting on his own fatherhood, Cook considers his father and grandfather as having had the greatest influence on his role as dad. “I find myself growing more and more into those men who raised me. I see their hands when I peel an orange for my kids and I hear their voice when I sing to them, for example. In a sense, as I find them more and more physically present in my own aging body, I am increasingly reminded daily of their paternal care and closeness,” he observed.

In fostering a closeness to the Holy Family, who Cook considers “the best help for Christian parents,” Cook describes his family as “decidedly domestic in our habits,” noting that the family enjoys taking walks after dinner; going to Nanny and Grandpa’s at any opportunity — especially spending Sunday there after Mass; and otherwise being home together, reading, playing games, or having meals and snacks as a family.”

As a Catholic father, Cook recognizes the importance of prayer, so he tries to pray the Liturgy of the Hours regularly, knowing that “my children see it even if they are not able to engage directly with it.” More profoundly, he acknowledged, “I try to deepen my relationship with Christ through … liturgical living and praying so I can become more like Him in my fatherhood.”

Cook also stressed the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which, as a father, he considers “my dearest friend and hope, as I have constant need for conversion. That has helped me to maintain my relationship with my children and my wife as I make mistakes, asking immediately for their forgiveness, as well as God’s.”

In his 2015 series of talks on the family, Pope Francis recalled the divine role of St. Joseph, and the significance of the saint as a model for Christian fathers everywhere, saying, “The Church … is committed to supporting with all her strength the good and generous presence of fathers in families, for they are the irreplaceable guardians and mediators of faith in goodness, of faith in justice and in God’s protection, like St Joseph.”

 Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.