March 12, 2021

The gift of St. Joseph

A daughter shares the story of a ‘miracle’ that forever connected a family to a saint

The feast day of St. Joseph holds a special place in the family of Francis and Jody Hammans. Here, their daughter, Lori Hammans Tobin, holds a photo of the couple as she stands near a statue of St. Joseph in St. Joseph Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

The feast day of St. Joseph holds a special place in the family of Francis and Jody Hammans. Here, their daughter, Lori Hammans Tobin, holds a photo of the couple as she stands near a statue of St. Joseph in St. Joseph Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: Pope Francis has proclaimed this year as the “Year of St. Joseph,” honoring him for his faithfulness to God, his dignity as a worker, and his love and devotion as a husband to Mary and as a foster father to Jesus. As the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, nears on March 19, The Criterion is sharing the stories of how he has touched three families in the archdiocese.)
 

By John Shaughnessy

As she looked at some old family photos recently, Lori Hammans Tobin came across a handmade card that led her to once again smile about “our family miracle that happened on St. Joseph’s feast day.”

The card reminded Tobin that the best gift of her childhood came in a phone call, a call that left her mother crying tears of joy, and she and her siblings dancing and clapping in delight.

It was a phone call about her father, Francis Hammans—a phone call on March 19, 1964—that would create a dramatic impact on their family, their parish and the larger community for years to come.

Four years earlier, in 1960, Francis Hammans was a young husband and father trying to make a good life for his family. He didn’t have a high school diploma because his father had died when he was 15, and he needed to go to work to help his mother and siblings.

Still, he had a strong work ethic and a deep sense of faith, being a faithful member of then-Holy Cross Parish on the near eastside of Indianapolis.

That faith and the family of Francis and his young wife, Jody, became severely tested when he was diagnosed in 1960 with tuberculosis—an infectious, life-threatening disease.

Francis was often in the hospital during the next four years, a period when Jody received several calls that he was about to die. At the same time, she struggled to keep their six children together. The children shared one bedroom, and relatives, friends and Catholic Charities helped the family, including providing food at Thanksgiving and presents at Christmas.

“I was only 5 at the time, but I know the six of us children were with our mom each night as she taught us to say the rosary,” recalls Tobin, who notes that her mother always told them that “God hears the voices of little children.”

As they prayed for their husband and father, he prayed too. He told God that he would find a way to serve him even more if he was allowed to live to provide for his family

By then, his lungs had collapsed, and he had kidney failure. His death seemed imminent. Then came the phone call.

“After a very long, four-year battle, the doctors couldn’t explain how, but our dad was pulling through,” Tobin recalls. “It was the amazing call on St. Joseph’s feast day in 1964. Our mom told us that our dad was finally coming home.”

His wife cried tears of joy. His children danced and clapped. And in the years to come, Francis Hammans kept his promise to dedicate his life even more to his family, his parish and his Indianapolis community.

A family legacy and another gift

“For the next 34 years, our dad was able to return to a full life, having two more children, 44 years of marriage and days filled with serving our Lord,” Tobin says.

At first, he did it by helping people whenever he could. Even though his family was on a shoestring budget after his recovery, he reached into the refrigerator for milk or bread whenever he learned that another family needed it.

Then, in 1968, he helped to start a food pantry for the poor at Holy Cross Parish. That effort led to making special food baskets for families in need at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Several hundred people lined up to take home grocery bags filled with turkey rolls, potatoes, corn, green beans, pies and bread. Cookies and candy canes topped off the bounty.

It became a 48-year holiday tradition involving as many as 500 volunteers and several generations of the Hammans family, a tradition that the family continued for about 20 years after Francis died in 1998.

Seventeen years later, there would be another defining moment for the family. It happened on March 19, 2015.

“We had an early morning text that day from our sister-in-law Kellie, wishing us all a ‘happy St. Joseph’s feast day’ before we began our day,” recalls Tobin, a member of

St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis. “It was a day we celebrated and remembered every year for the miracle of our dad returning to us.

“Later that morning, I received a phone call from St. Paul Hermitage saying that our mom was unexpectedly declining very rapidly, and that we should come to the Hermitage as soon as possible. On my drive over from work, I kept thinking and praying that nothing bad would happen on St. Joseph’s feast day.

“Later, I realized this was yet another gift as Mom began her journey to heaven that day. She took her last breath two days later, and then she joined our heavenly Father and our dad.”

A continuing bond to a special saint

All these memories rushed back to Tobin when she recently came across the handmade card that everyone in the family had signed for Francis on March 19, 1994—to mark the 30th anniversary of his recovery.

She thought about the faith of her parents.

She thought about the love they had for each other and their family—which has now grown to more than 100 members, counting children, spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She thought about their connections to St. Joseph and how her father seemed to follow that saint’s example of faithfulness to God, dignity as a worker, and love and devotion as a spouse and a parent.

It’s all part of the bond that continues for their family, Tobin says.

“Our family will always reflect, remember and honor our miracles that happened on St. Joseph’s feast day with the love, respect, faith and devotion our parents gave to each other—and to each of us.” †
 

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