Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brother Andre, CSC: The Little Man from Montreal Is Set for Canonization in October

Brother Andre Bessette, CSC,
of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Montreal, Canada

Photo courtesy:

Pope Benedict XVI formally announced in the Consistory Hall of the Vatican on February 19, that Brother Andre, CSC -- less than five feet tall in stature -- of Montreal, along with five others, will be raised to the sainthood in coming October. The formal canonization ceremony will take place in the Vatican on October 17, 2010, reports CNA.

The five other candidates are: Mother Mary MacKillop, the founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Australia; Father Stanislaw Soltys, a 15th century priest of Poland; Sister Giulia Salzano and Sister Battista Varano of Italy; and Sister Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola of Spain. Representatives from these countries were present in the Consistory Hall at the time of the official announcement.

Jubilant Canada

Canadians received the announcement of the canonization with jubilation. Montreal's archbishop Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte at a press conference at St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal said that the Vatican announcement was "the best thing that could have happened this year for the Church in Montreal." He also said: "I have always been impressed by this man [Brother Andre], both a humble man and a visionary, a man of deep faith. An example of determination, still relevant today in 2010."

Father Jean-Pierre Aumont, CSC, Provincial of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Canada, called the announcement a "wonderful gift." He further said: "For the Religious of Holy Cross, it represents more than ever a source of inspiration, a model of faith and trust in God and in the human condition. He shows us how to envision great things and how to look toward the future!"

Bishop Pierre Morissette of Saint-Jerome in his capacity as the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said that the bishops of Canada welcomed the Vatican announcement. On the saint-to-be he said: "Brother Andre lived his life with great humility. Guided by a deep faith and devotion to Saint Joseph, he dedicated his life to praying, serving the poor, welcoming strangers, healing the sick and comforting the suffering. To this day, his memory remains an important witness to all Canadians of faith and love."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is a Protestant, in his statement on the same day said: "Brother Andre's life shows us the power of faith and the importance of concern for the sick and others in need. In this solemn act, the Roman Catholic Church is honoring a Canadian who achieved greatness through humility, determination and service to others." He further stated: "Brother Andre's devotion to St. Joseph, the patron saint of Canada, led to the building of the magnificent Oratory on Mount Royal. Today's news heightens the inspiration we feel on seeing that religious landmark, a symbol and center of faith in Montreal and all of Canada."

His Humblest Life

Brother Andre, CSC, was born on August 9, 1845, in Saint-Gregoire d'Iberville, 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the east of Montreal, Canada. His birth-name was Alfred Bessette (after he become a Brother, he was given a new name "Andre"). He was one of the 12 children in a poor family. When he was nine years old, his lumberjack (woodcutter) father was killed by a falling tree. Three years later, his mother died from tuberculosis. After the parents' death, his siblings were divided up among relatives. His family situation prevented him from being a literate. He had difficulties in reading and writing.

From very young age he had to work for six years as a farm labour, shoe-repairer, baker and blacksmith in the province of Quebec, Canada. Then he went to neighbouring New England State in the USA where he worked for four years in textile mills and agricultural farms.

On his return to Canada in 1867, he, barely literate and with frail health, expressed his willingness to join a religious Order. His local parish priest, who knew him well, sent him to the nearby Holy Cross Brothers assuring its superior that "I am sending you a saint." His forecast has come to be true with the recent announcement at the Vatican.

The superior placed the 25-year-old novice at College Notre-Dame, a high school for boys near Mount Royal in Montreal, as a porter (doorman). Even after being a Brother, he remained in this same post -- for a total of 40 years.

School boys, their parents and other visitors became attracted to him due to his unusual humility, prayerfulness and cheerful spirit. They used to request him to pray for their problems and sicknesses. Many of them attributed their healing to him, but with his usual humility, he would say that it was his prayers to St. Joseph that the healing occurred.

His extraordinary devotion to St. Joseph inspired him to build a church in his honour. With small amounts of money, received mostly as donations, he built a small church in 1904. Due to ever increasing number of devotees and pilgrims, Brother Andre set to build a large church which got built gradually in stages. Ultimately it was completed in 1966, about 30 years after his death on January 6, 1937. This impressive church -- now a minor basilica -- on Mount Royal, overlooks the city of Montreal. It is interesting to note that when Brother Andre proposed to build a bigger church, many of his confreres laughed at him because such a gigantic idea was coming from a mere door-keeping Brother, who was almost an illiterate!

The process of canonization of Brother Andre, CSC, started in the 1940s. In 1978, he was declared a "Venerable." In 1982, he was declared a "Blessed."

The statement of Father David Tyson, CSC, the Provincial Superior of the Indiana Province of Holy Cross, published in the South Bend Tribune, aptly summarizes the life of Brother Andre: "We are honored and moved beyond words at Brother Andre's formal recognition as a saint. Not only because this immensely humble man is the Congregation's first recognized saint, but because he is such an ordinary example for every Catholic of every age. Not for him the trappings of power and status, of money and prestige; 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 for all!"

Brother Andre: A Member of the Congregation of Holy Cross

Brother Andre, CSC, the newly minted saint, belonged to the Congregation of Holy Cross, a Religious Order of Catholic priests and Brothers. This congregation has its missionaries in over a dozen countries, including Bangladesh, on five continents. Father Basil Moreau, CSC (1799-1873) founded the congregation at Sainte-Croix (Holy Cross) village near Le Mans, France. Father Moreau himself has been beatified in the Vatican on September 15, 2007.

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