Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

February 22, 2010

Brother André Bessette: First Holy Cross Saint!

We celebrate the impending canonization of Brother André Bessette, the first saint of the Congregation of Holy Cross!

Originally rejected from pursuing religious life because of poor health, when Alfred Bessette finally reached the door of the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870 he came with a note from his pastor that read, “I am sending you a saint.”

Called Brother André, he could barely read or write. He was assigned as a porter at the Congregation’s College of Notre Dame in Montreal, manning the door, scrubbing the floor, and working in the garden. His other responsibilities were to welcome guests, find the guests they were visiting, wake up the students for school, and deliver the mail. Many years later Brother André joked: “At the end of my novitiate, my superiors showed me the door, and I stayed there for forty years.”

People soon realized that Brother André had the gift of healing. He would often heal people by touching them or rubbing their bodies with oil from a lamp burning in front of the statue of St. Joseph to whom he had a special devotion.

In 1904 he asked the Archbishop of Montreal if he could have permission to build a chapel to St. Joseph on the mountain near the college. The Archbishop asked, “Are you having visions of St. Joseph telling you to build a church for him?” Brother André responded: “I have only my great devotion to St. Joseph to guide me.”

Permission was granted as long as Brother André promised not to go into debt. Brother André put a small dish with a sign that read “Donations for St. Joseph” on a picnic table with a statue of St. Joseph at the top of the mountain. He collected nickel donations when he gave haircuts to the boys who lived at the college.

When he had a few hundred dollars, Brother André built a small 15’ x 18’ wood shelter to keep the growing number of pilgrims who came to him from getting wet. In 1924 construction began on a larger building, the oratory. The Great Depression interfered with the project, but Brother André, at ninety, was able to be carried up the mountain to see a statue of St. Joseph placed in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. When he died on January 6, 1937 nearly a million mourners filed by his coffin. The oratory was completed in 1955.

For his healing powers, the Church declared Brother André venerable in 1978. In 1982 Pope John Paul II beatified Brother André.

Early in the Lenten season of 2010, on February 19, Pope Benedict XVI, announced the formal canonization of Brother André will take place in Rome on October 17.

Join us in marking this joyful occasion for the Congregation of Holy Cross and all its ministries, including Ave Maria Press!

 Quotations from Brother André

 “It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the best paintings.”

 “Put your self in God’s hands; he abandons no one.”

 “Practice charity with your neighbor—and this doesn’t mean only to give money to the poor. There are many ways to practice charity. We could, for example, keep ourselves from examining our neighbor’s conscience. There is also visiting the sick, who often do not need money, but who need good advice to help them get closer to God.”

 “When you say to God, Our Father, he has his ear right next to your lips.”

 “There is so little distance between heaven and earth that God always hears us. Nothing but a thin veil separates us from God.”

  (Quotations are excerpted from Brother André: Friend of the Suffering, Apostle of Saint Joseph by Jean-Guy Dubuc, Ave Maria Press, 2010)

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