St. Louis Review, March 12, 2009
Homeschool mom honors saint with ‘virtual’ altar by Jennifer Brinker, Review Staff Writer
For Evann Duplantier, creating an altar in honor of the feast of St. Joseph on March 19 is a "labor of love."
But that’s where any "laboring" on her part comes to a halt. Duplantier, a homeschooling mom of six, has honored the patron saint of workers with a virtual St. Joseph Altar on the Web at thankevann.com/stjoseph.
The beauty of the online altar, said the member of St. Anselm Parish in Creve Coeur, is that it doesn’t involve the sometimes days-long process of setting up an altar and baking breads, pastries and other food for it.
"Your kitchen stays clean, and you don’t have to leave your house," she said.
The St. Joseph Altar, sometimes called a table, is a centuries-old tradition that started with Sicilian farmers who prayed to St. Joseph at the time of a severe famine.
Their prayers were answered, and the families held an open house by placing food on a St. Joseph Table.
Duplantier and her family started the virtual altar 10 years ago, partly as a way to relive her childhood in New Orleans, where the tradition has long held popular with Sicilian immigrants and their descendants. The tradition has caught on with others, too.
"I’m not Italian," said Duplantier, "but my grandmother used to go to the altars when I was a little kid. People would open up their houses, and it would be pretty amazing, the things they set up in their dining rooms." More elaborate altars are sometimes set up in churches, restaurants and other public places, too, she said.
Duplantier worked years ago she with other families in the St. Louis Catholic Homeschool Association to set up a real-life altar. But the effort turned out to be too much to handle year after year, she said.
"You needed help with the food and gathering other things," she said. The tradition is that "everything has to be obtained by begging — not buying everything."
When Duplantier, a former art director, and some of her children set up their first virtual altar in 1999, the website included a basic altar, which is traditionally set up in three tiers to represent the Holy Trinity.
A statue of St. Joseph is placed on the top tier, usually surrounded by bread, flowers, greenery and fruit. Those who make an offering to the virtual altar can choose from about a dozen items, including bread, fish, pastries, fruit and candles. Offerings can be made up through the March 19 feast day.
On the website, visitors can request prayers for deceased loved ones. A separate message board is open all year long for other prayer requests.
"This comes from the tradition of praying for deceased people at the altar," said Duplantier. "Pictures of deceased loved ones are usually set up on family altars."
Other features include a section on the history of St. Joseph altars, images of the saint for downloading, St. Joseph-themed coloring pages, recipes and links to other resources. Duplantier also has set up a blog at stjosephaltar.blogspot.com.
New this year is a link with instructions on how children can make a three-dimensional St. Joseph altar out of paper. Helping her with the project were two of her daughters, 16-year-old Isabel and 13-year-old Maxine.
Duplantier said she receives visitors from all over the world, including Italy, Brazil and New York, to name a few. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Duplantier said she also noticed an increase in visitors from New Orleans.
As she works on the site around March each year, Duplantier noted that her children are hard at work setting up a real altar in the family dining room, a tradition that the family has had for about a decade and a half.
"Sometimes it has been a surprise for me," she said. "It started out very tiny — a little cake and cookies and a statue of St. Joseph. It’s gotten a little bigger every year."
Gambit Weekly, March 15, 2005
Food News by Todd A. Price
St. Joseph Supplies: On Saturday, March 19, the Crescent City Farmers Market (700 Magazine St.; www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org) celebrates St. Joseph's Feast with an ancient Italian tradition -- a parade of Vespa motor scooters. The market, held from 8 a.m. to noon, will also feature Italian cooking demonstrations, live music and plenty of supplies for a St. Joseph altar. If you can't build your own altar, the online Virtual St. Joseph Altar offers the second best solution.
Times Picayune, March 3, 2005
Altars gearing up for St. Joseph's Day by Kat Stelly
If you know how to bake Italian cookies, the seniors at Wynhoven Apartments in Marrero could use your help. Residents are organizing a St. Joseph's Day altar, and need assistance baking the hundreds of Italian cookies that are a crucial part of this tradition.
The cookies reflect the Sicilian origin of this Catholic tradition. Centuries ago, a famine gripped Sicily, and the people prayed to St. Joseph for relief. When the famine ended, the people held a great feast open to rich and poor alike. The custom continues today in the form of St. Joseph's altars. Italian cookies such as biscotti, almond macaroons, and fig cakes always have a place of honor
For information on how you can help, call Wynhoven Apartments at 347-0777. Those who wish to learn more about St. Joseph's Day altars and the traditions associated with them can visit a neat resource on the Internet called the Virtual St. Joseph Altar. The image of the altar has clickable links that explain the relevance of each item on the altar. Also on the site are recipes for Italian cookies and other traditions associated with St. Joseph, such as the prayer for selling your home. The virtual altar can be viewed at www.thankevann.com/stjoseph
WWL-TV, March 17, 2004
New Orleanian creates virtual St. Joseph altar by Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
The creation of former New Orleanian Evann Duplantier, the virtual St. Joseph altar web site explains the history and rituals of the annual tradition, which lives on in New Orleans, thanks to the efforts of Italian-American families, churches, schools and other organizations. The largely Roman Catholic tradition (passed down through generations of Sicilians) includes setting up elaborate altars to St. Joseph, to give thanks for favors granted, or to ask for petitions to be heard.
As Duplantier's web site explains, during a terrible famine, the people of Sicily pleaded to St. Joseph, their patron saint, for relief. St. Joseph answered their prayers, and the famine ended. In gratitude, they prepared a table with foods they had harvested. After paying homage to St. Joseph, they distributed the food to the less fortunate. The tradition continues today, with hours of volunteer work going into the altar, including baking special cookies, breads and pastries, and cooking all of the food that goes onto the altar. Duplantier's web site includes the history of the St. Joseph altar tradition, a section for prayer offerings and petitions, photos of the traditional foods, and even a listing of several altars in the New Orleans area. Other locations can be found in the classified section of the daily newspaper, in the days leading up to March 19.
North Country Catholic, January 2, 2002
This article appeared in papers in Honolulu, Hawaii; Austin, Texas; Biloxi, Mississippi; Metuchin, New Jersey; Rockville Centre, New York; and, Providence, Rhode Island.
Saint Joseph – Taken for Granted by Msgr. Robert H. Aucoin
Saint Joseph, spouse of Mary, foster father of Jesus – what a tremendous role he played in the history of salvation, but how often he is forgotten.
Well, thanks to a dedicated Catholic, St. Joseph can be rediscovered or maybe revealed for the first time at http://www.politickles.com/thankevann.
Designed by a home schooling mother, this website is filled with tips, tricks, and techniques appropriate for all families. The site is called "Thank Evann," and the author hopes that we have something to be thankful for after visiting.
What especially caught my attention to this website was information about the St. Joseph Table, an Italian custom that we revitalized at Wadhams Hall Seminary a few years ago. There is even a blessing for this event in the official Book of Blessings. With origins in Sicily, the St. Joseph Table recalls a famine that ended upon petitions being made by the people to St. Joseph. In thanksgiving, they prepared a huge feast, gave thanks to St. Joseph, and then distributed the food to the poor.
This website not only has a fuller explanation, but an actual photograph of the table. Detailed directions for designing such a table for the home are provided. However, the most interesting part is a wide variety of recipes for the diverse foods traditionally served on this occasion. For those who want even more help in establishing this celebration, there is a reference book obtainable to purchase. You will notice that I mentioned the availablity of recipes. Most Italian cooks that I know are very reluctant to share recipes. So, we should be very grateful that these recipes are posted for the enjoyment of all.
The Feast of St. Joseph occurs on March 19 during Lent. All of the recipes are meatless, but all are very good. The recipes are the best of Italian cuisine and are probably items that one does not usually find in an Italian restaurant. Not only has the webmaster provided an abundance of recipes, but there are also links to quite a few other sites that explain the celebration and provide even more recipes. If you are looking for a way to celebrate St. Joseph, this is definitely the place to check out. This section of the website is called the "Virtual St. Joseph Altar." It is so well presented that readers will not be satisfied with virtual food, but will definitely want to make the virtual a reality.
Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday, French for "Fat Tuesday," has traditional Catholic roots. New Orleans gets all the publicity, but this is a feast rooted in Catholic tradition that can be celebrated in any home. King Cake seems to be the delicacy of choice. I won't spoil the surprise of letting the readers find for themselves the significance of King Cake. Suffice it to say that it is like a cinnamon roll, but there is something special inside.
Homes schoolers will find many interesting and valuable references. However, these references are not just for home schooling families. In this "goodies" section, I was able to find an abundance of information about science, art, an ever-expanding lisitng of textbooks, and religion projects to mention just a few.
This website is not overwhelming with resources, links, and pages. However, all the resources presented are nicely placed, easy to access, and worthy of a visit. As the webmaster hoped, we do have a reason to thank Evann.
St. Louis Review, February 8, 2002
Almsgiving, prayer and sacrifice: Home schooling families emphasize three works of Lent by Jennifer Brinker, St. Louis Review Staff Writer
Lucy Hannegan believes it's important that her six children know the three works of the Lenten season — almsgiving, prayer and sacrifice.
Hannegan is a home schooler and president of the St. Louis Catholic Home School Association. She, along with other Catholic families in the St. Louis Archdiocese, are incorporating activities into their lessons that teach their children the importance of the penitential season.
Many of Hannegan's ideas come from The Year and Our Children, a book by Mary Reed Newland. “It's outstanding — not just for Lent, but for all the (liturgical) seasons,” she said. Other resources for Hannegan include Around the Year With the Trapp Family, by Maria Augusta Trapp, and Celebrating the Faith in the Home by two home school mothers, Teresa Zepeda and Laurie Gill.
One tradition during Lent is reading the Stations of the Cross. Hannegan and her family use a homemade candelabra — and blow out a candle as each of the 14 stations are read.
"We really like the St. Alphonsus Liguori stations," Hannegan said. "The language is pretty in those. Eventually after the last station, we're sitting in darkness. That's really good for understanding that sin is darkness and that we need Christ to be the light on Easter."
Hannegan, a member of St. Roch Parish in the West End, said her children, ranging in age from 11 to 18, have also in past years made charts to mark their progress of the 40 days of Lent.
"We make a big path on a piece of poster board and for each of the kids, they draw a zigzaggy path across (it)," Hannegan said. "We section out 40 squares on the path, and then in each square we sit down and decide what would be a good penance on each day," including no sweets, going without video games or doing a good deed.
As each day of Lent passes, the children would place a sticker or drawing on each square to mark their progression of the season. "It's so they could see the development of time," Hannegan said. "With little kids, it's hard to have them understand that this is a 40-day retreat."
The Hannegan family also places a focus on pretzels during Lent — a recipe that was instituted centuries ago during the Lenten season. The crossed arms of a twisted pretzel have come to signify arms crossed in prayer.
"We make the big soft ones," she said. "And then sometimes at Easter I would dip them in chocolate. And that was our culmination of Lent."
Hannegan stresses that it is important to teach children the three works of Lent — almsgiving, prayer and sacrifice. "The almsgiving is taken care (of) with the Rice Bowl," a project of Catholic Relief Services in which money is collected for the needy.
Prayer, Hannegan said, is achieved through the Stations of the Cross and by trying to attend Mass daily. Sacrifice happens through being kind toward one another. "That can be a big sacrifice," she noted.
Evann Duplantier is another home school mother who offers her children activities to remember the importance of Lent.
For Lent, Duplantier has organized with her six children, ranging in age from a year-and-a-half to 14 years old, a St. Joseph altar, a Sicilian tradition.
On the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, families and churches set up large altars with a statue of the saint and meatless food placed on it. Photos of deceased loved ones also are placed on the altar in remembrance.
The story goes that during a terrible famine, the people of Sicily prayed to St. Joseph, their patron saint, for relief. St. Joseph answered their prayers, and the famine ended.
In gratitude to their patron, the Sicilians prepared a table with foods they had harvested. After praying in thanksgiving to St. Joseph, they gave the food to the needy.
Duplantier recalled having seen the tradition growing up in New Orleans.
"They're a work of art," she said. "Crowds of people go to see them. When I was little, my grandmother used to take me to these altars, and it was a big deal."
In the past, Duplantier has created a St. Joseph altar with her children and other families in the St. Louis Catholic Home School Association. More recently, she, along with her oldest child, Maria, have made a virtual altar on the Internet at www.thankevann.com/stjoseph. The Web site offers historical information, a place for prayer requests, links to information on St. Joseph and the opportunity to make a virtual offering.
Lent, Duplantier said, is "not just a dull, boring time where (you) have to give things up." The idea is to "add to what you're doing — maybe do some extra reading and good works for people.
“It's not just what are you going to give up, but what are you going to do. How can you do something better for somebody else ... or yourself" That's what we shoot for.”