St Andre Bessette
January 6th is the memorial of St Andre Bessette. Saint Andre was born on August 9, 1845, near Montreal, Canada as Alfred Bessette. The son of a woodcutter, her was the eighth of twelve children. His father died in a work-related accident and his mother died of tuberculosis. He was adopted at age 12 by a farmer who insisted that he work to pay for his keep. After working as a farmhand, he worked at various trades: shoemaker, baker, blacksmith — all failures. He was a factory worker during the Civil War. At age 25, he applied to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross, but was initially refused due to his poor health. He latter gained the support of Bishop Bourget, and was finally accepted.
Alfred entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870, taking the name of Brother Andre. He was given the humble job of doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal, with additional duties as sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. Andre had a lifelong devotion to St. Joseph and spent much time in prayer. On his windowsill, facing Mount Royal, was a small statue of Saint Joseph, to whom Andre was especially devoted. “Some day,” he believed, “Saint Joseph will be honored on Mount Royal.”
Andre had a special ministry to the sick. He would rub the sick person with oil from a lamp in the college chapel, and many were healed. Word of his power spread, and when an epidemic broke out at a nearby college, Andre volunteered to help; no one died. The trickle of sick people to his door became a flood. His superiors were uneasy; diocesan authorities were suspicious; doctors called him a quack. “I do not cure,” he always said. “Saint Joseph cures.” By his death, he was receiving 80,000 letters each year from the sick who sought his prayers and healing.
For many years the Holy Cross authorities had tried to buy land on Mount Royal. Brother Andre and others climbed the steep hill and planted medals of Saint Joseph on it, and soon after, the owners yielded. Andre collected money to build a small chapel and received visitors there, listening to their problems, praying, rubbing them with Saint Joseph’s oil, and curing many. The magnificent chapel, now a great basilica, St. Joseph’s Oratory, is still in use today.
Andre died at age 90 on January 6, 1937, of natural causes and was buried in the Oratory. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 23, 1982. In his homily that day, The Holy Father said this of Brother André:
“A daily crowd of the sick, the afflicted, the poor of all kinds-those who were handicapped or wounded by life-came to him. They found in his presence a welcome ear, comfort and faith in God. Do not the poor of today have as much need of such love, of such hope, of such education in prayer?”
On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a decree recognizing a second miracle at Blessed Andre’s intercession and on October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formally declared sainthood for Blessed Andre.
For more detailed information on St. Andre, read Brother Andre Marie’s biography.
“It is with the smallest brushes that the artist paints the most exquisitely beautiful pictures.”
~ St. Andre Bessette