US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Jude didn’t let them down

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For his book, Thank You, St. Jude, Robert Orsi researched devotion to St. Jude, patron of difficult or hopeless causes, which has been fostered by the Claretians since the 1920s through the National Shrine of St. Jude.

Why has the St. Jude devotion flourished while other devotions have died out?

There are lots of ways in which this devotion spoke directly to Catholics in a changing world. I really believe that women brought St. Jude into places where they were on the leading edge of social change in those years. If you read John L. Thomas, a Catholic sociologist of the mid century, you’ll find that women were the ones looking for new kinds of marriages and new kinds of lives. Women often were the first to initiate crossethnic marriages, for example. At a time when gender roles were changing, these women imagined Jude as a strong, caring, attentive man. Jude became the man that American Catholic women were heading toward.

The women I talked to who prayed to St. Jude did not strike me as “weak women.” That led me to wonder about that classic view of devotionalism that sees these women as weak and dependent. What women did was tell St. Jude what was in their hearts. In a moment when you’re emotionally wracked, it’s a very difficult matter to begin articulating your desires. It’s a very powerful moment, and I think the world changes at that moment for these women.

This article appeared in the November 2005 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 70, No. 11, page 24-28).

Read more from Robert Orsi on the history of Catholic devotions in the United States.