The Register Archive: One day in the incredible life of Saint Brother André

  • January 11, 2018

As The Catholic Register marks its 125th year, we will dig into our archive to unearth interesting stories from the pages of the past. This week, we revisit St. André Bessette, the humble Holy Cross brother who was the prime mover in the building of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal and is credited with countless healings through his devotion to St. Joseph. He died on Jan. 6, 1937 (his feast day is Jan. 7) at the age of 91 and was made a saint in 2010. The following article appeared in The Catholic Register on Aug. 25, 1927, shortly after Br. André turned 83 years old.

MONTREAL – Brother André was 82 years old on Aug, 9. Montreal’s “Miracle Man,” as he is known all over the continent, spent his birthday as he spends every day, in hearing the petitions of thousands of pilgrims to the shrine of St. Joseph’s Oratory at Cote-des-Neiges.

In spite of his fourscore years and more, Brother André declared himself to be in excellent health. “I’m pretty well,” he answered an inquirer, and smiled cheerfully as he sat on the high stool he occupies behind a counter in his tiny office near the Oratory. And his rosy countenance, on which time has etched a network of fine wrinkles, gave testimony to the statement.

Many of his friends in the United States had come to Montreal especially to pay their respects to the aged Holy Cross brother, who, though the least among his brethren, has spread the fame of the order more than any other. Residents of this city and its environs kept the telephone busy all day long with their messages of congratulation. Among them were many once afflicted, whose tribute was one of gratitude to Brother André.

Usually, Brother André receives about 8,000 visitors daily, but the number was much greater on Aug. 9, being swelled by those who had no special affliction for which to beg his prayers, but were prompted merely by affection for the saintly old man. Cars, sightseeing buses and taxis ascended the slope to the Oratory all day long, each depositing more and still more visitors eager to see Brother André. A long queue formed in the little frame building in which his office is located, and extended on to the asphalt pavement outside.

“‘Ping!” went Brother André’s bell as each short interview was ended, signalling the next pilgrim to enter. To each he inclined his head, asking “What is it you want?” As the petition was made to him in a few words, his reassuring answer was: “I will pray for you.”

Usually the petitioner took away as a gift a vial of blessed oil with instructions to apply it and pray to St. Joseph for intercession.

A priest of the Holy Cross Order, which is in charge of St. Joseph’s Oratory, declared that Brother André is in much better health than at his last birthday.

“Only the other day,” he said, “Brother André made the journey to South Bend, Indiana, to attend the consecration of Bishop (George) Finnigan. He just stopped off between trains to attend the ceremony and hurried back to Montreal. Next day he was in his office during his usual hours from 10:30 to 12 in the morning and from 2:30 to 6 in the afternoon.” Bishop Finnigan is the first member of the Order in America to be raised to a bishropic.

“Aged though he is, and frail as he has always been from childhood, he is always at the call of pilgrims. Even at night, we cannot be sure that he won’t be called out.

“The only way Brother André can ever be sure of a full night’s rest is when some friend of his living here comes to the Oratory and carries him off to his home when his day at the office is done.”

brother andre chapel
The Oratory, which is expected to be completed in 10 years’ time, will be a monument to the devotion of Brother André. The original little church, which stands in the background, was started with a sum of $200 which Brother André had earned by acting as barber to the boys of the Holy Cross school in years past, when he was the porter of the institution.

“His wishes are law to us here,” declared the priest. “When some new plan is drawn up as the oratory building progresses, we show it to him. If he puts his finger on some detail and says, ‘I don’t like that,’ we change it without question.”

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