St. André Bessette has been named patron saint of the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board in western Ontario. Register file photo

Br. André named board’s patron saint

By 
  • September 6, 2022

St. André Bessette has been named patron saint of Ontario’s Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board (HPCDSB) in recognition of the special place he has in the hearts of those in the region.

Canonized on Oct. 17, 2010, St. André, or Brother André, is best known as the founder of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal and for a life dedicated to welcoming the sick, lonely and poor to find a home in the healing power of Jesus Christ.

The idea of servant leadership exemplified by the saint is palpable in the small rural community of Huron County, says director of education Chris Roehrig.

The move to officially make him the patron saint started with a suggestion originally put forth by trustee Jim McDade. St. André, who died in 1937 at age 91, often visited the hamlets of the region, specifically St. Joseph and Kinkora in Perth County.

Roehrig says the naming of St. André as patron of the board has been a long time coming.

“He’s a saint that actually walked the grounds of our district,” said Roehrig. “He was among us, and we can actually pinpoint places in the district where St. André stayed, served and ministered to our community. There’s always been a special closeness to St. André. As we were thinking about creating The Order of St. André Bessette and in the wake of creating the St. André Bessette Trust Fund, we thought it was time to honour him by naming him patron saint of the board.”

The board established the St. André Bessette Trust Fund in 2011, which supports the enhancement of the learning and well-being of students in the district. All donations to the fund go directly to support children and families in need.

In the fall of 2021, the district established an award called The Order of St. André Bessette which recognizes those who have made exceptional contributions to academia, spiritual life and/or philanthropic achievement. Daniel G. Bishop, the founding principal of St. Michael Catholic Secondary School in Stratford, was first recipient of the award.

Though the local Catholic community’s devotion to St. André has long been strong, honouring him as patron saint will mean the district will be even more intentional in asking for the intercession of the saint on a more regular basis, says Roehrig.

This fall, the relics of St. André will be coming to the district giving opportunities for students to spend some time in prayer and reflection. It’s hoped students will continue his legacy of service to a greater degree throughout the community.

“This was really a great opportunity to use the example of St. Brother André Bessette to showcase the best in our district,” said Roehrig. “We hope to be able to hold up St. Brother André as someone for us to aspire to. All the good things he did, including his ministry to the poor and service to our community, is a shining example of what we ought to aspire to do as a Catholic community ourselves.”

In his humility, whenever being bestowed any praise, St. André was known to deflect that honour to St. Joseph to whom he had a special devotion. According to the St. Joseph and Area Historical Society, while visiting the area, St. André expressed his desire to see a statue erected in honour of St. Joseph and even selected a site for the monument. The statue was placed in his honour at St. Joseph Memorial Park in St. Joseph, Ont., in 1972.

The spirit of kindness, care and empathy for those going through difficult circumstances, exemplified by St. André, Roehrig said, has been a big part of the small community. It is something they know will only grow in the years to come through continued community commemoration of the saint, the trust fund, the order and through the character of the staff, students and their families in the close-knit region.  

“We have very small schools and when tragedy occurs or when hardship occurs, the communities rally around those children and those families,” said Roehrig. “As a district through the St. Brother André Bessette Trust Fund we’re constantly seeking out ways to support children and families in need. Especially in times where other supports are not available, we can help to fill that gap. I think that the way in which the community responds to adversity, hardship and tragedy is really consistent with St. André’s spirit.”

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