If there is such a thing as a vow of stability, then an extraordinary but very ordinary man was found to be in fulfillment of that vow. For forty years, the Miracle man of Montreal, Canada, Brother Andre Bessette, was on the surface at least, nothing more than a kindly porter. He would welcome guests at the front door of the school for boys, ages seven to twelve. He would listen to their stories, pray with them, comfort them, and encourage them to pray to his beloved St. Joseph. On this coming Sunday, October 17th, his name will be added to the calendar of Saints by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s square.
Born August 9, 1845, in Montreal, Canada, Alfred Bessette was simple, ordinary, not particularly bright, but deeply in love with God. Entering the Congregation of the Holy Cross, he became Brother Andre whose life seemed destined for simple tasks. Yet, as God frequently does, he uses the childlike to accomplish great things. His compassion for the sick spread widely and many would come to the door of the school where he would greet them with Christ-like love. He would pray with them and for them and anoint them with oil he burned near a statue of St. Joseph. Miracles of healing would take place. Despite such display of God's power, Br. Andre would time after time say, "I am only a man, just like you."
Tales of crippled rheumatics healed and those afflicted with fever would be made suddenly well. Brother Andre’s deep devotion to St. Joseph was a focus of his ministry. He urged people to constantly pray to St. Joseph.
In 1904 he requested the Archbishop of Montreal to build a chapel to St. Joseph on the mountain, Mt. Royal, near the college. The Archbishop gave permission to Br. Andre to build only what he had money for but Andre had only a little money from what he had collected giving haircuts to the boys in the school.It totaled only to a few hundred dollars so he took this bit of money and built a small wood shelter where he continued to collect donations for the next three years as many would climb the mountain to see Br. Andre.
With his devotion to St. Joseph before him, he continued to minister to people who came to him where he built further as monies were given. Miracles of healing continued but he urged all to thank St. Joseph for everything. Over the years, Br. Andre’s devotion to St. Joseph never wavered and he urged further construction on a much larger chapel to St. Joseph. At the age of 91 he died never seeing the completion of the Shrine but his legend lives on far beyond his life. It was estimated that over one million people attended the funeral of this simple Holy Cross Brother who, through the mighty grace of God, achieved heroic holiness and set before the Church, the face of St. Joseph, the likewise quiet but devoted husband of the Virgin Mary.
Today, on Mt. Royal in Montreal, stands St. Joseph’s Oratory. A beautiful place of pilgrimage, prayer, and hope. The largest Church dedicated to St. Joseph in the world.
His work for God shines brightly and has achieved for him a place among the Saints of God. I have always believed that God speaks through children and the childlike. Once again we see that truth in the life of the extraordinary Br. Andre.
Pope John Paul II said of Br. Andre: “We venerate in Blessed Br. Andre a man of prayer and a friend of the poor, a truly astonishing man . . . In each age the Holy Spirit raises up such humble witnesses of the Gospel, who turn things topsy-turvy.”
Holy Brother Andre, your devotion to St. Joseph is an inspiration to us. You gave your life selflessly to bring the message of his life to others. Pray that we may learn from St. Joseph, and from you, what it is like to care for Jesus and do his work in the world. Amen.
St. Joseph pray for us and lead us to follow Christ as we have been called in each of our vocations. Heal afflictions of mind and body through the intercession of your devoted servant, Andre Bessette. May we rise and find true freedom to serve God more faithfully.