Healing hands opened up devotion to Brother André

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

Brother Jacques BerthiaumeMontreal - Why he was spared death and received two miracles as a child, Brother Jacques Berthiaume will probably never know until he meets his maker. But he’s certain of one thing: Brother André, the Quebec miracle worker, really is a saint.

“I am very proud because I can say I knew a real living saint — not some foreign saint that I’d only heard about,” said Berthiaume, 84, who, according to doctors, was going to die as a child.

Berthiaume was born in Saint-Césaire, a small town 60 km east of Montreal. It was also Brother André’s home town for a brief period before the local pastor, Fr. André Provençal, wrote a letter recommending him to the seminary.

“I’m sending you a saint,” Provençal had written in a reference letter to the Holy Cross congregation. When he joined the congregation, the young brother, formerly Alfred Bessette, took André, his former pastor’s name, in recognition.

The name became famous over the years as thousands of people who visited Brother André, including Berthiaume, were freed from a range of illnesses (occurrences which Brother André always attributed to God and the intercession of St. Joseph).

Berthiaume still vividly recalls his encounters with the saint. Brother André sometimes returned to visit Saint-Césaire, where the Holy Cross Brothers ran a boys’ college of about 150 students. Berthiaume was crippled and ill but, even though Brother Andre was sometimes seen in town, his parents couldn’t wait for a chance meeting with the famous healer. They brought their son to Brother André at the Oratory three times a year — always hoping for a cure.

“By the time I was five, the doctor had said twice that I would die,” Berthiaume said.

At six years, a doctor told Berthiaume’s parents there was absolutely nothing more to be done; their son was dying. Among other problems, the boy suffered from open, suppurating wounds on his back.

“And so we came to see Brother André one last time, and it was at that visit when Brother André really put my mother’s faith in God to the test,” Berthiaume said.

After driving to Montreal using a borrowed car, the family waited in the parking lot for about an hour and a quarter. Their driver, a brother from the college, caught Brother André’s attention as he returned from lunch, but he told them to get in line like everyone else. Brother André would see about 50 people per hour, give short consultations and then ring a bell to indicate time was up, Berthiaume said.

“My parents were quite disappointed because they had resolved that Brother André would see me at the car, but we got in line.”

Eventually, they made it to the front of the line.

“My father placed me on the desk while Brother André had his back to us. Brother André turned around and said to my parents ‘You will rub his wounds with dishwater,’ then rang (the bell). We had barely spent three minutes with him. My parents brought me back to Saint-Cesaire deeply hurt.”

Still, his parents followed Brother André’s orders the next day, despite worries that the dirty dishwater might cause infection.

“My mother placed me on a bench, made the sign of the cross and started to scrub me with the dishwater from lunch.”

She performed the ritual for nine days, after which his wounds closed up and all that remained were scars, which Berthiaume has to this day. But he still wasn’t fully cured.

“We continued to go see Brother André and my mother would always say ‘Your job isn’t finished. He walks with crutches.’ ”

On Oct. 26, 1935, Brother André was passing through Saint-Césaire on his way back from a visit to the United States. Berthiaume, now 10 years old, approached Brother André as he was getting out of a car.

“He simply said to me, ‘Go ask your mother if she would like me to bring your crutches to the Oratory,’ so I ran home to ask her. My mother looked at me and started to cry and said, ‘You haven’t noticed that you’re walking without crutches?’ I hadn’t.”

Bewildered, he ran back to tell Brother André that his mother approved his request.

“This all happened in front of the 20 brothers who taught at the college and between 150-180 students,” Berthiaume said.

The experience gave Berthiaume a great devotion for Brother André and his order. At the age of 18, he left for Montreal to study with the Holy Cross. He became a brother himself and taught French at Notre Dame College, where Brother André had once served as a doorman.

Two years ago, the retired Berthiaume began walking with a cane, but doesn’t plan on asking for any favours this time.

“At my age, I don’t need another miracle,” he said. “I’ll leave that chance for everyone else.”

(Girard is a freelance writer in Ottawa.)


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