Blessed Brother André
Blessed Brother André Bessette, C.S.C., will be canonized, or formally declared a saint, in a ceremony to be held Oct. 17.
Blessed Brother André was a brother of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious order which founded the University of Notre Dame, and the founder of St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal.
Born Alfred Bessette on Aug. 9, 1845, in Saint-Gregoire d’Iberville, Quebec, Brother André was one of 12 children. By the time he was 12 years old, his father, a lumberman, had been killed in a work accident and his mother had died of tuberculosis. Physically diminutive, chronically ill, uneducated and clumsy with his hands, the young Bessette nevertheless worked as a farmhand, shoemaker, baker, and blacksmith in Quebec for six years before leaving for New England, where he spent four years working in textile factories and farms in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
From his earliest childhood, he was quietly but conspicuously prayerful, an inclination which seemed only to intensify during his hardscrabble years as an itinerant laborer, and when he returned to Canada in 1867, he confessed an interest in formal religious life to his local parish priest, who sent him to a nearby community of Holy Cross brothers with a letter assuring its superior that “I am sending you a saint.”
The largely illiterate 25-year old novice was put to work as a porter, or doorman, at Montreal’s College of Notre Dame, an assignment in which he continued for the next 40 years.
In addition to welcoming visitors, he served as janitor, launderer, and sacristan, ran errands and provided the students with cheap haircuts. Throughout these years his reputation for humility and kindness grew, as did the numbers of visitors he received. Most of these were poor and sick people, to whom he offered not only his compassion and what material assistance he could provide, but also moral and spiritual advice. Many of his visitors attributed miraculous cures to him, but he would insist, sometimes with annoyance, that any such cures were attributable to the prayers of Saint Joseph.
Brother André’s particular affection for St. Joseph, in addition to the need to accommodate the throngs of people seeking his help, advice and prayers, led to the foundation of Saint Joseph’s Oratory, at first a small structure constructed on Mount Royal with funds from small donations and Brother André’s barbershop income and now a massive basilica which attracts some 2 million pilgrims each year.
Brother André was entombed there after his death on Jan. 6, 1937. Between his death and burial, more than 1 million pilgrims came to pay tribute.