Canonization brings renewal to St. Joseph’s Oratory

By  Carolyn Girard, Catholic Register Special
  • October 4, 2010

Brother André tombMONTREAL - Two million people visit St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal every year but, since founder Brother André’s canonization was announced, shrine administrators say the numbers have visibly increased. Fr. Claude Grou, the Oratory’s rector, hopes this is a sign of renewal.

“I think it is just the beginning,” Grou said. “I think the celebration we will have in the month of October in Rome and in Montreal will generate more interest and I believe after that, people who have seen the celebration on television or come here, will feel the importance of coming back to this place as a place they will go pray, where they will grow closer to God, where their faith is strengthened.”



The Oratory began as a small chapel constructed in 1904 but despite several setbacks grew magnificently in many stages between 1914 and 1966. It is open to the public every day of the year, from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Seven Masses are celebrated daily, with the sacrament of Reconciliation available starting with the first Mass at 7 a.m.

Especially on Sundays, the busiest day of the week, a constant stream of visitors stop by Brother André’s tomb near the lower crypt church, pray or light votive candles at various sites devoted to St. Joseph, visit the Oratory’s museum, explore the outdoor Stations of the Cross and more.

For Gerard Plourde of Cornwall, Ont., the Oratory is an important place. Plourde, 82, said although travelling to Montreal to visit the tomb of Brother Andre has become more challenging, he and his wife used to visit every year to honour the man who miraculously healed him.

At three years old, Plourde suffered from a significant growth under his eyelid. A man who was helping to build Brother André’s chapel came through his father’s restaurant in Montreal one day and invited him to bring Plourde to meet the Montreal miracle man.

Two days after Brother André prayed with them, the growth completely disappeared, Plourde said.

“It was a life-saving thing because the eye was completely shut.”

For years, Plourde and his wife have donated money and visited the tomb in devotion.

“The tomb, that’s the place we’ll go to pray, hoping there will be more people healed,” Plourde said.

Montreal resident Raffaela Seaglioni is one among a growing number of new pilgrims. Within the past year, a trip to the Oratory has become a weekly event.

“I feel at peace when I’m here and I’m very fortunate that I live close by,” Seaglioni said, adding that the Oratory gives off an inexplicable spiritual energy.

Mary Varick, the leader of a church group from New Jersey that visits the shrine every year, said the Oratory has become more spiritually enriching over time.

“I’m amazed at the changes and I think it’s become more holy — the grounds have become more contemplative,” Varick said.

Grou said that as the Oratory’s rector, he continues to see hundreds of letters from people who claim to be healed of something after a visit to the Oratory or a prayer to Brother André and St. Joseph.

Another pleasant surprise, he added, is the reverence displayed by both pilgrims and tourists of all faiths and cultural backgrounds.

“We can sense this respect for this place where they are — whether they want to pray in that place or just visit, they always do it with a great sense of respect and interest,” Grou said.

This includes Sikhs, who share a respect for saints of all religions, he said, and Hindus, who respect “all people from God who are expressing God’s presence in the world.” The latter can often be spotted respectfully placing flowers before one of the church altars or a statue of Mary at the shrine. And a variety of people, including Muslims, line up to touch the feet of Christ of a large crucifix in front of the crypt church.  

(Girard is a freelance writer in Ottawa.)

 


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