Healer, Religious, Doorkeeper, Dreamer of Dreams
The Miracle Worker of Montreal
As with many Saints that we have written about, when Blessed André died on January 6, 1937, the Faithful had already proclaimed him a Saint. In the case of Blessed André of Mont Royal, or Montreal, Canada, not only the citizens of that city, but indeed all of French Canada considered him a Saint during his lifetime. There was an expression which circulated French Canada during the early 1900’s when something could not be done, “Hey, I’m not Brother André. I can’t get it done.” One of the resource books we’re using for this life of Blessed André is “Brother André, Miracle Worker of Mont Royal.” This title just about expresses what Brother André was and did. The Lord worked powerfully through him and all was done through the intercession of, and to give honor to St. Joseph. The monument to St. Joseph, high on a hill overlooking all of Montreal, is a tribute from Brother André to St. Joseph; but we believe it’s also a tribute from St. Joseph and our Heavenly family as well as the people of Montreal to their own Brother André.
No one wanted the humble doorkeeper forgotten, nor did they wish his memory to be romanticized or altered in any way. Therefore, for the eight years following his death, forty-nine of the most reliable witnesses were individually questioned regarding events surrounding Blessed André’s life. Everything was carefully taken down in short-hand, so that the investigators could later read their answers and make sure their testimony had been accurately recorded. Having agreed that it had, they then signed documents, swearing under oath that all they had testified was true.
Over three thousand pages of eye-witness testimony was accumulated, only to have Rome, twenty-five years later in 1962, appoint other Church officials in Montreal to conduct an inquiry delving more specifically into Blessed André’s life. This would result in nine hundred more pages by another twenty-two witnesses. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Church or in the world more documented or better known than the humble Doorkeeper who founded Saint Joseph’s Oratory.
Blessed André, the child
Alfred Bessette (later known as Brother André) came from very humble beginnings, much like those of Jesus. He was born on August 9, 1845. The baby was so frail and sickly, his parents were afraid he would not live; and so Alfred was baptized the moment he was born. He was conditionally baptized (when there is doubt concerning a previous Baptism) the following day in the church. With the loving care and prayers of a very pious mother, our future Blessed lived to an old age! But, like other great Saints before and after him, Brother André would have serious bouts with debilitating illnesses to the day he died.
His parents, Isaac Bessette and Clothilde Foisy were young when they married. The little family had virtually no money; Isaac was, like St. Joseph before him, a carpenter. We believe that Brother André’s first exposure to St. Joseph, and the great devotion he had for the foster father of Jesus, came from his own saintly father. Isaac married Clothilde when she was only seventeen years old. As she was from the Parish of Saint Joseph in Chambly, she taught her son Alfred about Jesus’ earthly father, at an early age. When questioned later on in life, Brother André would tell everyone about the great devotion and love he had for St. Joseph came from his mother who taught him from the cradle to know and love this great Saint, and his own father who represented St. Joseph on earth for young Alfred.
Alfred loved to pray from the time he was a little boy. He later spoke of those special moments when the family gathered to pray together, how he would sit close to his mother and finger the beads on her Rosary as they recited the mysteries. The two people who meant so much to little Alfred were taken away from him at an early age. First, his father died in an accident, and then six years later, he lost his mother to a dreaded, debilitating illness, tuberculosis. Family life as he knew it, would never be the same. Alfred had no mother and father; he had his heavenly Mother and father, Our Lady, and St. Joseph.
The family had to be dispersed. His siblings each went to a different home. Alfred, frail, delicate, and a very sensitive boy of twelve was required by his adoptive uncle to be a man! Right after the funeral, he told the grieving boy to stop crying; there was work to do. There was no time for mourning; that was for weaklings and girls. Alfred was twelve; he had to be a man and carry his weight. Poor Alfred had no weight; he was such a small, fragile child. But he did what he was told. This cross he carried would give him a love for the Cross of Jesus and a heart and compassion for the suffering people of this world who would later come to him. He prayed and practiced means of penance from an early age; but when the means of mortification, which could be a hairshirt, or a wire belt, were discovered by his aunt, he would obey and remove them, only to put on different ones.
Alfred was protected and looked after all his life. One night he went to a party. He was disturbed by the language and behavior among the young people there, and so he left by himself. As he was crossing a bridge on the way home, he heard a murmuring coming from below. He looked, but there was no one there. He heard the sounds again. Realizing they were not coming from the brook, suddenly thoughts of his mother came to him. He called out: “Dear Mother, if this sound is you warning me not to return to that place, let me hear it again.” Again he heard the sound, only now more clearly. Alfred knew both his earthly mother as well as his heavenly mother were looking out for him.
When Alfred was twenty years old, we find him following the pattern of other young men, venturing out to new worlds and more rewarding horizons. This was most likely encouraged and possibly mandated by his uncle who felt that André was a means to earn some money. And André obeyed. He went to the United States where he first worked on a farm and then in a factory. This was what other young men his age were doing; it seemed like the right thing to do. However, that was his agenda, or his uncle’s. He did not know that the path God had chosen for him was not in the world but for the world.
Feast Day January 6, For More Information on Blessed Brother Andre Click here