The Story behind Project Joseph
In 2009 Brother Jay Rivera, founder of the Franciscans of Life, was volunteering at Respect Life’s Pregnancy Care Center in Hollywood, Florida when he began to notice that the fathers of the infants in danger of being aborted were not being served by Respect Life Ministry.
It was not that the Archdiocese had anything against the dads. Simply . . . no one noticed. Men dropped off the expectant mother at the center, be it for class, counseling or material assistance, and sat in their cars, drove away or waited in the waiting area. The volunteers who served at the center would eagerly jump to the assistance of the expectant mother, but would have little or no interaction with the father. As Brother Jay watched, the thought hit him. “This is very much like Planned Parenthood and other ‘pro-choice’ organizations. Pregnancy is a woman’s issue.”
Like many other Franciscan fraternities, the Franciscans of Life place themselves under the protection of the Immaculate. Brother began to pray to the Immaculate for guidance. He also spoke to Joan Crown, Archdiocesan Director of Respect Life Ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami.
He laid out before them his concern that the fathers of the preborn babies were out of the loop. They didn’t know what to do or what was expected of them. Many of them were frightened by the sudden news of a pregnancy, wanted to walk away from the situation in the hopes that it would go away or offered to pay for an abortion as one would pay someone compensation for damages in an accident. The mothers were holding on to their preborn babies, but uncertain whether to go forward with the pregnancy.
Thanks to the support from the volunteer counselors and teachers at Respect Life, most of the mothers were determined to give the pregnancy a chance. However, giving your preborn child a chance is not the same as eagerly awaiting his birth. That chance can be revoked at any time.
Brother began walking up to the dads in the parked cars and invited them to come into the center. The men seemed friendly enough, but not too sure what to do about this invitation. They were hesitant. Of course, Brother Jay had no idea what he was going to do with the men either. He knew that he had to offer them something.
Finally one father, whom we shall call David, came inside. He was not too eager to be there, but he seemed curious to find out what this older gentleman who looked like a monk wanted. The first time that he entered the center they spoke for about 45 minutes about anything that came up.
That night, Brother again knelt in prayer asking for guidance. He prayed to St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan family, to the Immaculate, patroness of the Franciscans, and to St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan saint who is the patron of pro-life workers. Simply put, he called a team meeting and placed the situation on the table.
“We have preborn children who are at risk for abandonment and death, if both father and mother don’t step up to the plate. But they don’t know what to do and I don’t know what to teach them, because there is so much information out there and such little time here.”
While at prayer he felt someone saying, “Give it to St. Joseph.”
The next day would be the first Sunday of the month, the day that the Secular and Regular Franciscans have their local community gathering. Brother went to bed and dreamed. He was in a small room that was illumined, but there were no signs of electricity, no flames, or windows. The room just glowed. In the room stood a friar with his back to the door. Brother Jay recognized this friar as Brother Francis of Assisi. Brother Jay saw the grey sleeve of Francis’ habit rise as he raised his arm pointing to something in front of them. When he looked, Brother Jay saw a wooden statue of St. Joseph, about 10 inches tall, holding the child Jesus in one arm and something green in the other hand.
The next day, he attended the fraternity meeting and shared his concern with his Franciscan brothers and sisters. He mentioned the dream as well. A Franciscan sister who was at the meeting got up and left the room.
She came back with a white box. As she handed the white box to Brother Jay, she said:
“Someone gave this to me about 12 years ago. I have another, so I put it in my closet waiting to find someone to whom I could give it. This morning, as I was getting ready to come to the gathering, something told me to put this in my car. I think it’s for you.”
When Brother opened the box, there was the wooden statue that he had seen in his dream. It was 10 inches tall. St. Joseph was holding the child Jesus in one arm and something green in the other hand. They were lilies.
This was the confirmation. Saint Joseph had accepted the challenge. He would walk with Brother Jay and the expectant dads in crisis pregnancies.
Where Is Project Joseph Today?
Today, Project Joseph has evolved into an archdiocesan network of formation and service for men who are in crisis pregnancies.
The program operates out of four of the five archdiocesan pregnancy help centers: Hollywood, North Dade, South Dade and Fort Lauderdale.
At each center there is at least one trained mentor who provides small group education to fathers, counseling and material assistance.
Fathers may attend an entire program of 18 modules divided into three blocks of six: Becoming a Better Man; Parenting; Future Planning.
After completing this set of modules, fathers are invited to continue in the program where they receive education and support in other areas of fatherhood such as:
- community resources,
- behavior management,
- infant development,
- chastity and human sexuality,
- legal rights of fathers,
- faith and parenting,
- marriage and family,
- and safeguarding children.
Dads are “paid” Parent Dollars for every session they attend. They can cash in these parent dollars for anything from diapers to cribs and mattresses. A father may join Project Joseph at any point from the moment of conception until the child is one-year old. Project Joseph is always there to help if a father needs to return later.
There is no charge for the services that we provide, nor do we charge the Archdiocese of Miami for such services. Project Joseph is financed through grants and donations.
Through the year, Project Joseph serves approximately 20 fathers per week, 50 weeks out of the year. The only time the program is closed is during Holy Week and Christmas week.
It is run by men for men. Our mentors are volunteers from the community. They are Catholics in good standing with the Church.
The Franciscans of Life provide initial and ongoing formation for the mentors.
Project Joseph is grounded in the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.
Fathers and mentors are brothers who walk side by side on this journey, as did Saint Francis of Assisi and those whom he and his brothers served. The mentors approach the fathers from the “bottom up”. Like Saint Francis, they are here to serve, not to preach, teach, correct, discipline or be heard. They preach the Gospel through their lives and through their unconditional love for every man whom they serve. We train our mentors in the pastoral methods of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan Friar and patron of pro-life workers.
Like his spiritual father, Saint Francis, Saint Maximilian placed his trust in the Immaculate. He planted the seed and allowed her to guide him and those with whom he walked. Like Christ, he was willing to lay down his life for his brother, especially if that brother was the father of a family. Our mentors are formed in the spirit of total detachment from self and confidence in the Immaculate and Divine Providence. We do what we need to do for the dads and we get out of God’s way.
If you are a man in the Archdiocese of Miami, ask yourself if God is inviting you to help us proclaim the Gospel of Life by walking with your brothers. Do not worry about not knowing what to do. We in the apostolate will walk with you and our brothers. Contact us to find out more!
Below is a short video about Project Joseph: