Joseph was born Giuseppe Maria Desa (June 17, 1603 – September 18, 1663), the son of Felice Desa and Francesca Panara in the village of Cupertino, then in the Province of Apulia, in the Kingdom of Naples. His father having died before his birth, however, the family home was seized to settle the large debts he had left, and his mother was forced to give birth to him in a shed at the back of the house, where his mother had hid herself out of very shame. With such a beginning Joseph had very poor prospects.
Joseph began to experience ecstatic visions as a child, which were to continue throughout his life, and made him the object of scorn. He was very slow and absent-minded. He would wander around, going nowhere, his mouth gaping open. He went to school with the rest of the children in the village, but he did not succeed in anything was not at all popular. He seemed to catch every disease that came his way and his mother considered him a nuisance and treated him harshly.
Joseph was soon apprenticed by his uncle to a shoemaker. At length, one day, in the midst of this aimless life, when Joseph was already seventeen years of age, there came into his village a begging friar. At once he feeling drawn to religious life, in 1620 he applied to the Conventual Franciscan friars, but was rejected by them due to his lack of education. He then applied to the Capuchin friars in Martino, near Taranto, by whom he was accepted in 1620 as a lay brother, but was soon dismissed as his continued ecstasies made him unfit for the duties required of him.
After Joseph returned to the scorn of his family, he pleaded with the Conventual friars near Cupertino to be allowed to serve in their stables. After several years of working there, he had so impressed the friars with the devotion and simplicity of his life that he was admitted to their Order, destined to become a Catholic priest, in 1625. He was ordained a priest on March 28, 1628. He was then sent to the Shrine of the Madonna della Grazia, where he spent the next 15 years.
After this point, the occasions of ecstasy in Joseph’s life began to multiply. God began to work many amazing miracles through St. Joseph. Over seventy times, people saw him rise from the ground while saying mass or praying. Often he went into ecstasy and would be completely rapt up in talking with God. He became so holy that everything he saw made him think of God, and he said that all the troubles of this world were nothing but the “play” battles children have with popguns. Joseph then gained a widespread reputation of holiness among the people of the region and beyond. He was deemed disruptive by his religious superiors and Church authorities, and then he was assigned a tiny cell apart from the community, and a little chapel in which he might say his mass apart from others.
But the time at last came for his release. When, in 1657, Joseph had been taken to his last place of confinement, he had said he would never leave it. He added one thing more for a sign. He told his companions that the first day on which he failed to receive communion would be the day on which he would die. On August 1663, he was seized with an intermittent fever. So long as it was only intermittent he continued to rise every morning to say mass. The last day was the feast of the Assumption; on that day, says the Act of his canonization, he had ecstasies and experiences surpassing anything he had ever had before. Then he was compelled to take to his bed; but still he persisted in hearing mass when he could, and never missed communion. He became worse, and extreme unction was administered. When he had received it, he had one request to make, it was that his body should be buried in some out-of-the-way corner, and that it should be forgotten where it was laid. He fell into his agony. There came constantly to his lips the words of St. Paul: “Cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo.” Someone at the bedside spoke to him of the love of God; he cried out: “Say that again, say that again!” He pronounced the Holy Name of Jesus. He added: “Praised be God! Blessed be God! May the holy will of God be done!” And so he died. It was September 18, 1663. He was just sixty years of age.