By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Brother André Bessette, C.S.C, a doorkeeper whose ministry to the sick led him to be called the “Miracle Man of Montreal” will become the first saint of the Congregation of Holy Cross when Pope Benedict XVI canonizes him in St. Peter’s Square on October 17, 2010.
According to a press release from the Congregation of Holy Cross, Blessed Andre was born Alfred Bessette to Isaac and Clothilde Bessette on August 9, 1845, in Montreal. Brother André entered Holy Cross in 1870 and worked as a porter at a Montreal school run by the Congregation. He soon began to earn a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. Bessette’s biographers recount tales of crippled rheumatics healed and fever-stricken schoolboys made suddenly well, often aided by “Saint Joseph’s oil,” which Bessette rubbed on wounds and sick limbs after burning it before statue of the patron saint of his religious order.
Compassion for the suffering and devotion to Saint Joseph led Brother André to a life comforting those in greatest need. Pope John Paul II said of him, “We venerate in Blessed Brother André Bessette 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.”
More than seventy years after Brother André’s death in 1937, millions of pilgrims travel each year to Saint Joseph’s Oratory, which he founded in Montreal in 1904. Brother André was declared Venerable by the Catholic Church in 1978 (the first of three steps toward sainthood), and Blessed in 1982 (the second step).
“We are honored and moved beyond words at Brother André’s formal recognition as a saint,” said Rev. David Tyson, C.S.C., Provincial Superior of the Indiana Province of Holy Cross on learning that Bessette would be canonized.
“Not only because this immensely humble man is the Congregation’s first recognized saint, but because he is such an extraordinary example for every Catholic of every age. Not for him the trappings of power and status, of money and prestige; he was famous first as a ferociously hard worker at the high school where he served his whole life; he simply did everything and anything that was needed, from cleaning the floors to fixing shoes, from doing students’ laundry to cutting hair. What an example of prayer in action, of active service to others as the most eloquent and powerful prayer of all! And that is the essence of the Congregation – we serve the Christ in every being, with our hands and hearts and souls, with all our might.”
A delegation of Holy Cross brothers, sisters, priests, and supporters from around the world will make the pilgrimage to Rome for the canonization. Praying in joyful thanksgiving for the holy example of Brother André’s life and asking him to intercede for them, these pilgrims will reflect on this saint raised up in their midst and attend events associated with the canonization.
“The canonization celebration is a signal of the vitality of the Indiana Province of Holy Cross,” said Rev. Edwin H. Obermiller, C.S.C., Assistant Provincial. “The Indiana Province of Holy Cross is currently working with more than 600 men a year who are considering a vocation. And there are 50 men in the United States currently studying to become Holy Cross priests. They and their brothers in Holy Cross will continue the work of our founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., in the spirit of Brother André.”
Blessed Andre will be canonized on Oct. 17 along with five other saints, including another “first” – Blessed Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, who will become Australia’s first saint.
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