Brother André a saint for today

  • February 26, 2010
{mosimage}MONTREAL - Just two days after the announcement of Brother André’s canonization, St. Joseph’s Oratory had no lack of pilgrims filing past his tomb.

One young woman, who would not reveal her name, stopped and prayed at the various stations depicting St. Joseph’s life, leading up to Brother André’s crypt.

“I come often because I’m a believer and it’s renewing,” she said.

Like many people who stopped at Brother André’s tomb, she was not there because of the news, but because she found tangible peace and a deepening faith experience in her visits. The Oratory, founded by the man to be canonized as Canada’s newest saint on Oct. 17, is a place where more than two million people flock every year — whether for pilgrimages, to learn the history, to light a candle in prayer, attend Mass at either the Crypt Church or the Basilica or simply to experience something different.

Brother André's path to sainthood

Aug. 9, 1845: Alfred Bessette is born in St. Gregoire, Que.

Jan. 6, 1937: Death of Br. André.

November, 1940: Initiation of a tribunal by His Grace Joseph Charbonneau, archbishop of Montréal and investigation of the practice and virtues of Br. André.

June 12, 1978: Pope Paul VI declares Br. André “Venerable.”

May 23, 1982: Pope John Paul II beatifies Br. André.

February 2005: Launch of diocesan investigation regarding a cure attributed to Blessed Br. André.

March 2008: The Congregation for the Causes of Saints mandates a medical commission to study this cure.

February 2009: The medical commission declares the healing scientifically unexplainable.

Dec. 19, 2009: Pope Benedict XVI promulgates a decree recognizing a second miracle at Blessed Br. André’s intercession

Feb. 19, 2010: Pope Benedict XVI approves sainthood for Blessed Br. André.

Brother André’s simplicity contrasts with the immensity of St. Joseph’s Oratory, yet reflects the immense gift of healing and devotion he showed for God and which he continues to pass onto people decades after his death.

Brother André was illiterate and could barely write his own name. To the people of Quebec, he was “one of us,” somebody with simplicity and a great heart for others, said Aumont.

Born Alfred Bessette, Brother André represented the average Quebecois of that period, Aumont said. He came into the world in 1845 to a family of 10 children. His father, a lumberman, died when he was nine years old and three years later, his mother succumbed to tuberculosis. Alfred did not complete school and set out to find employment, working in several different trades. He made a living despite his physical weakness, and in the 1860s followed other French-Canadian emigrants to work in the United States, where he spent four years at textile mills.

When he presented himself as a candidate in the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal, he came endorsed by a letter from his pastor, who said he was sending them a saint. After donning the habit, Brother André was made porter at Notre Dame College, which he continued for 40 years. He did maintenance, including washing the floors and windows, cleaning lamps and carrying firewood. He also cut students’ hair.

He had said, “Despite my weak condition, I did not let anyone get ahead of me as far as work is concerned.”

Aumont said that at his death, Brother André told people not to regret his departure, because he would be with God and able to help them even more. To Aumont, this is why people continue asking for his help today and hints at the role the Oratory plays.

The stories are numerous, Aumont said, and Brother Andre’s attitude, his capacity for welcoming others and his confidence in God are of no less relevance in 2010.

“Life today is no easier than it was during the time of Brother Andre,” Aumont said. “Many people are faced with poverty, sickness, unstable jobs and solitude.”

Since Brother André’s beatification in 1982, the Oratory has been inviting pilgrims to pray for his canonization. But soon they will be able to focus on journeying with St. Andre, said Fr. Charles Corso, a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Saints, Blesseds, Venerable & more

St. Isaac Jogues (1608-1646)
St. Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649)
St. Charles Garnier (1606-1649)
St. Antoine Daniel (1600-1648)
St. Gabriel Lalemant (1610-1649)
St. Noel Chabanel (1613-1649)
St. René Goupil (1608-1642)
St. Jean de La Lande (1600s-1646)
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys (1620-1700)
St. Marguerite d’Youville (1701-1771)

André Grasset (1758-1792)
Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)
Marie de l’Incarnation (1599-1672)
François de Laval (1623-1708)
Marie-Rose Durocher (1811-1849)
Brother André (1845-1937)
Marie-Léonie Paradis (1840-1912)
Louis-Zéphirin Moreau (1824-1901)
Frédéric Janssoone (1838-1916)
Catherine de Saint-Augustin (1632-1668)
Dina Bélanger (1897-1929)
Marie-Anne Blondin (1809-1890)
Émilie Tavernier-Gamelin (1800-1851)
Bishop Vasyl Velychkovsky, C.Ss.R. (Ukrainian) (1903-1973)
Bishop Nykyta Budka (Greek-Ukrainian) (1877-1949)

Vital Grandin (1829-1902)
Alfred Pampalon (1867-1896)
Élisabeth Bergeron (1851-1936)
Délia Tétreault (1865-1941)

Causes For Sainthood
Jérôme Le Royer de la Dauversière (1597-1659)
Jeanne Mance (1606-1673)
Fr. Pierre-Joseph-Marie Chaumonot (1611-1693)
Br. Didace Pelletier (1657-1699)
Jeanne LeBer (1662-1714)
Sr. Rosalie Cadron-Jetté (1794-1864)
Sr. Marcelle Mallet (1805-1871)
Sr. Élisabeth Bruyère (1818-1876)
Sr. Élisabeth Turgeon (1840-1881)
Sr. Marie Fitzbach (1806-1885)
Sr. Éléonore Potvin (1865-1903)
Sr. Catherine-Aurélie Caouette (1833-1905)
Fr. Alexis-Louis Mangin (1856-1920)
Br. Théophanius-Léo (Adolphe Chatillon) (1871-1929)
Gérard Raymond (1912-1932)
Bishop Ovide Charlebois (1862-1933)
Sr. Marie-Clément Staub (1876-1936)
Fr. Eugène Prévost (1860-1946)
Br. Antoine Kowalczyk (1866-1947)
Louis Émond (1876-1949)
Fr. Victor Lelièvre (1876-1956)
Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985)
Pauline Archer-Vanier (1898-1991)
Georges Vanier (1888-1967)
Sr. Carmelina Tarantino (1937-1992)

As the rector of the Oratory for 12 years, Aumont said he’s heard countless stories of how Brother Andre touched peoples’ lives before his death Jan. 9, 1937, and how he continues to reach people to this day. One of the most striking moments came in a letter from a woman in a small village in Mexico. She wrote, “I give thanks with all my heart to Our Lord for granting my prayer through the intercession of Brother Andre and St. Joseph. Blessed is the day when I came to read the biography of Brother Andre — I gained much faith and confidence in this saint and also in St. Joseph and a favour was quickly obtained.”

“We were pretty overt in asking people to pray for his canonization,” Corso said.

Now, Corso said, the focus will change, but the transition won’t be too difficult as many people come to the Oratory with that aim of praying with Brother Andre in the first place.

“André wanted to hear people; he didn’t want anyone to go home unheard,” said Corso.

Corso has been serving St. Joseph’s Oratory for three years as its only Anglophone priest. Corso is quite happy to be working at the resting place of his order’s first saint.

“He is a model for us clergy today, even though he wasn’t a priest,” Corso said. “He had an absolute confidence in God — that’s the meaning of hope — and that’s something people could and still can relate to.”

When it came to curing people, Brother Andre was vehemently opposed to taking credit, Corso said. As far as he was concerned, it was up to God to cure people, and the oil he sometimes rubbed on people’s ailments was simply a physical prayer. The oil he took from a lamp burning at the foot of a statue of St. Joseph.

The real magic of Brother Andre, Corso said, is that he still brings people together today. He was a man with a heart for ecumenism before the term even existed. While he was alive, they flocked to him daily, both Catholics and Protestants, lining up for hours outside the first little chapel he built for even just a few minutes of his time.

Today, people of all faiths file past his tomb and the displays dedicated to the religious Brother Andre, a man humble and frail in health, who refused to take credit for the multiple physical cures of people he prayed for and with, through the intercession of St. Joseph.

Religious and cultural celebrations in both Rome and Montreal will soon be announced. The travel agency Spiritours will operate a pilgrimage to Rome for the canonization.

“He never lowered his arms in the face of difficulty and that’s what many people admire of his life,” said Aumont. “His simplicity and his humility.”

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