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Praying For A Home Sale, With A Little Help From St. Joseph

Home seller Diana Grammont of Lexington, Mass., gets ready to dig a hole in her front yard to bury a statue of St. Joseph. The belief that St. Joseph helps homeowners sell their homes traces back to St. Theresa of Avalon, a nun in the 17th century who buried a coin of the saint and prayed to him for help in getting land for monasteries. When the ritual worked, the practice spread. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Home seller Diana Grammont of Lexington, Mass., gets ready to dig a hole in her front yard to bury a statue of St. Joseph. The belief that St. Joseph helps homeowners sell their homes traces back to St. Theresa of Avalon, a nun in the 17th century who buried a coin of the saint and prayed to him for help in getting land for monasteries. When the ritual worked, the practice spread. (Elise Amendola/AP)
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What do women of a certain age talk about at the hairdresser’s?

Men, kids, jobs, aging parents, exercise apparel, men — and real estate.

'Did you plant St. Joseph like I told you?' Marie asked when I told her my house had generated zero interest in three weeks on the market.

“Did you plant St. Joseph like I told you?” Marie asked when I told her my house had generated zero interest in three weeks on the market. In real estate-speak, the house was called “spacious and gracious.” It sits on a quiet cul de sac, with an acre-plus lot that backs up to a pond where swans swim by. Happy children ride bikes and play soccer in the gracefully landscaped street. Dogs mind their manners. An annual cookout brings the generations together for revelry. Our realtor had predicted a mob-scene of competing offers. Instead: flat line. No one had outright said they hated the house. But no one wanted to buy it, either.

Marie, a one-woman shop in a less-than-glamorous section of a less-than-glamorous Boston suburb, folded another foil into my scalp. Her neighbor on one side is some kind of woodworker, and on the other, a merchant who caters to hobbyists, particularly electric train fanatics. This location is a major improvement over her previous spot, where her neighbor was a “therapeutic” massage studio. Based on the noises that crossed through the walls, one could only imagine the sort of therapy that went on.

Marie specializes in color. She honed her craft in Florida, so she knows from blonde. She also knows from saints and sacred ceremonies.

“You didn’t bury St. Joseph?” asked Mary Margaret, the only other client in the shop that afternoon. Her tone was somewhere between incredulous and pitying as she added: “Oh my.”

Elizabeth Mehren: “Would St. Joseph work for heathen homeowners like me and my husband?” (Jeff Hester/flickr)
Elizabeth Mehren: “Would St. Joseph work for heathen homeowners like me and my husband?” (Jeff Hester/flickr)

Weaving in more foils, Marie reminded me of the rules of the ritual of St. Joseph: Bury him upside down, close to the house, “and make sure he faces the house. Otherwise he might sell the wrong one.” Pray to him daily, and once he works his magic, dig him up and place him in a position of honor in the new home.

Mary Margaret flashed her phone screen at me. There it was, right there on Amazon, “the St. Joseph Home Sale Kit.” Better yet, St. Joseph was available for under $8 and was eligible for Amazon Prime.

“You’ll have him in two days,” said Mary Margaret.

There was one slight complication. Would St. Joseph work for heathen homeowners like me and my husband?

“Of course,” said my architect goddaughter. Her own non-believer sister in New Orleans finally turned to St. Joseph after her gorgeous Garden District home spent months on the market, nary a nibble. In New Orleans, it turns out, St. Joe is available at local hardware stores. A week after she planted him, the house sold.

Similar stories poured in. No market movement, none at all. Plant St. Joseph and boom, the house sells.

“You’re not really going to bury that thing?” my pragmatic Yankee husband asked as I extracted the three-inch, ivory-hued plastic icon from the Amazon box. I didn’t answer. I was too busy reading the accompanying prayer card.

Monday morning I felt vaguely heretical as I dug a hole near my front porch and placed the foster father of Jesus in, head first. What was this upside down thing, anyway? I faced him toward our dining room, then read him his prayer.

This is a true story. By 5 p.m. we had a strong, solid offer.

Pray to him daily, and once he works his magic, dig him up and place him in a position of honor in the new home.

Not only does St. Joseph work in wondrous ways, but he is also very modern, evidently maintaining some kind of saintly data base. Thanks, I assume to Joe, I am now on the actual and electronic mailing lists for many other saints. Most recently, St. Anthony of Padua offered to intercede with my troubles, “no matter how large or small.”

Sorry, Tony. For now, I am partnered with St. Joseph, who continues to smooth out our real estate wrinkles. No sooner had we obtained remodeling permits for our new condo than structural issues in the building turned up. While the homeowners’ association threw up its collective arms (and, more noisily, its strident voices) in alarm, we read St. Joseph his prayer and placed him on a sunny shelf with a commanding view out the living room window.

Remodeling starts next week.

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Elizabeth Mehren Cognoscenti contributor
Elizabeth Mehren is an author, journalist and Boston University professor.

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