Posted November 01, 2010:
A New Saint for Canada

by Irene Sullivan.

Meet Brother André Bessette, a humble French Canadian, who became known as "the Wonder Worker of Mount Royal." He was just canonized on October 17th.

If you ever doubt you have sufficient gifts or talents to contribute significantly to the work of the Church, read the life of Brother André.

Brother André Bessette was born in 1845 in the rural Quebec town of Mt. St. Gregoire. A frail baby, he was baptized immediately and given the name "Alfred." His parents, Isaac and Clothilde, were very poor, but theirs was a happy family.

Isaac was a carpenter, but when Alfred was about four years old, work became scarce. So the family moved to Farnham where Isaac worked both as a carpenter and as a lumberjack.

Several years later, when Alfred was ten, his father was killed felling a large tree.

Clothilde tried her best to keep the large family together, but her health began to deteriorate, and when Alfred was twelve, she died of tuberculosis.

The children were sent to live with various relatives, Alfred going to his uncle and aunt, the Nadeaus. His ability to read and write was very limited, and they decided to apprentice him to a shoemaker.

This did not work out. The boy was still grieving the loss of his mother, and he kept puncturing his fingers with the cobbler’s tools.

He was next apprenticed to a baker, and this was work he loved. But it wasn’t long before another disruption caused him to move again. The uncle he was staying with decided to move to California to find better work.

So Alfred went to live with another family where he had to work very hard. One thing he found very difficult there was the lack of space he could call his own, for he loved to pray in solitude for long periods.

So he created a quiet place in the stable, and there he had many long conversations with the Lord and his Mother and in a special way with St Joseph.

His great love for St Joseph had been passed on to him by his mother and remained with him all his life.

For several years, Alfred continued to work on various farms. He even tried his hand at blacksmithing—another unhappy experience.

As he approached twenty, he realized he needed to find a better way to earn a living. So, like many French Canadians at the time, he went to New England where there was a booming textile industry.

Because of his poor health, however, the work he found was extremely hard for him. So he occasionally went back to farming.

One day while working in the hay field, he received a kind of "interior picture" of a college where he was destined to go.

How he got to this college and joined a religious order is a kind of miracle in itself, since his health was still poor and he could scarcely read and write.

Around 1867, when Alfred was 22, it seemed that more opportunities for work were opening up in Canada. So he returned there renewing contact with his friend, Fr. Provençal—whom he had known from his youth.

This priest, seeing deeply into Alfred’s heart, encouraged him to apply to the Holy Cross Order. This he did and was accepted as a novice where he proved to be extremely humble and generous in all he did—accepting the most menial tasks.

When the time came for profession, however, his superior was not convinced that with his poor health, he should be allowed to enter the community—even though Fr. Provencal had sent a letter of recommendation saying, "I am sending you a saint."

God, however, intervened. Bishop Bourget of Montreal visited the community at that time, and Brother André unexpectedly got the chance to have a few moments alone with him. He humbly asked the bishop to join the order, and his request was granted.

So in 1874, when he was 29 years old, he became a professed Brother, was given the name "André," and was assigned to be the porter for the College of Notre Dame.

As soon as he saw that college, he recognized it as the place he had seen in his "vision."

In addition to answering the door, Brother André also was given numerous other humble tasks, such as carrying firewood, cleaning lamps, mending clothing, and cutting hair for the many young students.

He also spent long hours at night in the chapel, and despite the fact that his poor digestion prevented him from eating very much, he amazed people by his stamina.

Brother André was a porter for many years. During this time, people would ask him for prayers, and numerous healings took place. Stories of these healings began to circulate throughout the community.

These stories also began to arouse the suspicion of members of his order, and a formal investigation took place. This was a severe trial for this man who had never taken credit for any of the healings, but who had always urged people to give God all the credit.

The investigation came to a close when it was clear that, if Brother André were forbidden to pray for healings, he would obey.

Still the stories kept circulating, and his superiors were watchful. So were some of the Montreal doctors who were indeed skeptical when patients returned to them healed.

Brother André would often take long walks on Mount Royal praying that a shrine be built there in honor of St Joseph. He placed a small statue of the saint on a ledge and a small bowl for alms for this purpose, and soon this began to inspire others to pray as well.

Friends and benefactors grew in number, and by 1904 there was enough money for a small shrine to be built.

Brother André was asked to become a permanent chaplain of this shrine, and this he was for the next thirty years of his life.

The shrine was enlarged and eventually a crypt was built, which was blessed in 1917.

Many pilgrims came, and there was need for a priest to say Mass for them. The only one available was Fr. Clement, who was blind. Brother André prayed for his healing, and Fr. Clement’s sight was restored.

Amazing healings continued to take place, and Brother André always told people not to attribute the healing to him, but to continue to see their doctors when needed, to receive the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion, and to thank God and St Joseph.

The pilgrims kept pouring in and Brother Andre hardly had any time for himself. He even had an extra cot in his small room for traveling pilgrims.

A couple of his loyal friends tried to keep order among all these pilgrims, but sometimes people would be upset because they had not been given enough time with Brother André.

One of these was a woman who was unable to walk. When she was asked to leave, she was so upset that she stormed out of his office. It was only afterwards that she realized that she had actually walked out with no help!

The pilgrims continued to flow in by the hundreds, and soon even the crypt was not large enough. During the 1920s, construction began on a basilica.

When the construction was halted in the early 1930s due to lack of funds, Brother André said, "This is not my work. It is the work of St Joseph. Place a statue of him in the middle of the building. If he wants a roof over his head, he will see that it is provided."

When Brother André died in 1937, the final work was well underway. Now St. Joseph not only had a roof over his head, he had a basilica, called St. Joseph’s Oratory, which is visited by millions of pilgrims each year, a basilica which continues to be a place of healing and hope for countless pilgrims from throughout the world.


If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:
Technology and Man

Previous article:
One Man's Scrap, Another Man's Gold (October 2010)



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate