MONTREAL — An unassuming religious brother known as the “miracle man of Mount Royal” will soon be called St. André, thanks to a decree by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Dec. 19 papal decree attributed a miraculous healing to the intercession of Blessed Brother André Bessette (1845-1937).
Details of the miracle are being kept private at the request of the family involved. But the healing “occurred extremely rapidly,” revealed Holy Cross Father Mario Lachapelle, vice postulator of the cause. “The fact that the person survived and made an inexplicable recovery added to the unusual nature of this healing,” he said in an oratory release.
Brother André was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982. The miracle cited then occurred in 1958, when Giuseppe Carlo Audino was healed of cancer.
No date has yet been set for Blessed André’s canonization, which will make him the second native-born Canadian saint and the first for the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
The congregation’s superior general in Rome, Father Hugh Cleary, called the news “a grace for our religious family.”
Nearly half a million physical cures and spiritual healings are said to have occurred through the prayers of this humble Holy Cross brother who was devoted to St. Joseph, according to Mark Miravalle, theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Although Brother André could barely read and suffered poor health, his faith and determination led him to found St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal. It welcomes 2 million visitors yearly and is the world’s largest pilgrimage site dedicated to St. Joseph, patron of families, workers and the universal Church.
Blessed André’s impending canonization means renewed interest in both his spirituality and in St. Joseph, said Holy Cross Father Claude Grou, oratory rector.
“Today in a society where the traditional family is faced with different trends, the figure of Joseph — a faithful man devoting his life to his wife, Mary, and his son, Jesus — inspires more and more Christians,” Father Grou said. “Joseph is considered a model of presence, confidence, protection and perseverance.”
‘I Am Sending a Saint’
Family molded Blessed André. He was born Alfred Bessette, the eighth of 12 children, in Saint-Gregoire d’Iberville, Quebec.
“He learned to pray at the feet of his mother,” said Father Grou. “In her prayers to St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary, he understood how the saints manifest in a tangible way God’s love for all humans.”
Orphaned at age 12, Bessette worked at various manual jobs and in the mills of New England before returning home.
When he came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870, he carried a note from his pastor saying, “I am sending you a saint,” according to numerous biographical accounts.
But his frail health prompted the congregation to reject him until Archbishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal intervened. Brother André made his final vows in 1874.
For 40 years he worked as a porter at Montreal’s College of Notre Dame, a school for boys. He later joked, “At the end of my novitiate, my superiors showed me the door, and I stayed there for 40 years.”
He welcomed visitors, did custodial work, ran errands and tended to students who were ill. He saved nickels he earned by cutting the boys’ hair to someday build a shrine to St. Joseph, Canada’s patron saint.
Guests sought his counsel and prayers. He visited the sick, gave them blessed oil, then advised them to pray a novena to St. Joseph and have faith.
In 1904, on Mount Royal, he built a small wooden chapel by hand in honor of his patron. He became the oratory’s custodian in 1909, and in 1924 construction on the basilica began.
Accounts tell of more than 435 cures and conversions reported by 1916 and thousands more before and after his death. When people recovered, he credited God and St. Joseph. “I am ignorant,” he said. “If there were anyone more ignorant, the good God would choose him in my place.”
“Brother André spoke of God as a being of love. He saw the passion and death of Jesus on the cross as the most brilliant expression of love and compassion of God,” said Father Grou. He showed “unconditional acceptance of others and compassion for the suffering.”
Upon his death at age 91, an estimated 1 million people paid tribute to him. The oratory continued to draw pilgrims, prompting the archdiocese to turn it into a minor basilica; it was completed in 1967 and can seat 2,200 people.
His followers see the timing of Blessed André’s impending canonization as providential.
“The message is trust. There’s such a need now for Brother André to encourage us to trust in St. Joseph as a provider,” said one priest who counts them both as patrons.
“People are afraid,” said Father Michael McNamara of Scituate, Mass. “They’re afraid of the stock market, afraid to trust in having large families. St. Joseph was a refugee in a foreign country. He shows us by example: ‘Don’t worry, the Lord will provide.’”
Added Stonehill College’s president, Father Mark Cregan, a Holy Cross priest, “Brother André stands as an example of fidelity to the mission of the Church: to teach, to heal, to evangelize.”
“In a world that continues to find individuals struggling in health and faith, his simple desire to serve and grow in his imitation of St. Joseph is most definitely relevant,” said Father James Gallagher, vocations director for the Holy Cross Indiana Province. “Blessed André provides a great example to young people searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.”
Gail Besse writes from Boston.
For more information:
St. Joseph’s Oratory
3800 Queen Mary Road
Montreal, Quebec H3V 1H6