AMARILLO, Texas - Call it a grass-roots merger of faith and real estate.
Across the country, homeowners hoping to successfully sell their property are planting statues of St. Joseph alongside "For Sale" signs.
Though the origin is uncertain, the custom of burying a statuette of St. Joseph by home sellers stems from the idea that the faithful should pray to the saints for their intercession, according to a Catholics United for the Faith Web site.
"It's like when you ask your mother to ask your father to let you go out. You're asking him to intercede on your behalf," Moneisa Thompson said.
Ms. Thompson, the owner of the Top of Texas Catholic Superstore in Amarillo, estimated that she sells 30 of the statues to homeowners and real estate agents each month.
Jlyn McKinney, 34, found herself willing to buy a molded figurine once a former neighbor credited a statue for success.
Ms. McKinney and her husband, Jason, 35, have been sweating out a decision to buy a new house before their old home sold. In more than 30 days on the market, "we've had lots of lookers, no buyers," she said.
The neighbor who recommended St. Joseph got three offers within days of planting the saint and subsequently closed a deal, Ms. McKinney said.
Ms. McKinney figured it couldn't hurt to spend $7 for the statue that she asked her son to bury in the front lawn.
"I guess God works in mysterious ways. Seven dollars and believing a little is not going to cause any more stress for us than what we're already going through," she said before she and her son bowed heads to say the recommended daily prayer.
Broker Sylvia Paetzold has, from time to time, given St. Joseph figurines to people she represents or even buried them herself.
Without a sufficient patch of ground, Ms. Paetzold planted St. Joseph in a flower pot at one townhome.
"I went by there one day, and they were cleaning everything out of the house," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, what do I do? How do I get him back?' I thought, 'St. Joseph's really going to be mad at me.'"
Ms. Paetzold worried because a tenet of the tradition calls for successful sellers to unearth the statues for display in a place of honor in their new digs.
"I didn't know how to approach them," she said.
Honoring St. Joseph is the most important part of the practice, according to Stephen J. Binz, the author of the 2003 book, St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent.
The publisher of the book created a kit to sell in tandem, which "wasn't my idea," the religious scholar said by phone from Little Rock, Ark.
Joseph is "the universal patron saint of home life because he was the father and husband of the most famous family to ever live on earth," Mr. Binz said. "He is a model and mentor of what home life and home building should be."
Mr. Binz said he wrote the book after asking St. Joseph to intercede in his own home sale. The eventual buyer toured the home the day after the figure went in the ground.
"Particularly in the Catholic culture," he said, "there's a lot of using the things of the earth to touch the divine, whether that be candles or bread and wine - all of those things are simply means to help people encounter heavenly reality."
The experience taught Mr. Binz "that St. Joseph, or Joseph of Nazareth, really does care about my life - that I could call on him in need."
Monsignor Joseph Tash, said you don't need to bury a statue to ask a saint to intercede. He pointed to kit instructions that give seven potential locations for statue burial - from upside down next to the sale sign to "somewhere on the property" - to support his argument.
"It's a myth, and people just grab onto it," said the Rev. Tash, the pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. "It's kind of like lighting candles in church and saying a prayer.
"Do you need the candle to say a prayer? Why not simply pray without lighting a candle? Why not just ask St. Joseph to help you sell the house?"