Saturday, October 16, 2010


Montreal Gazette report:
The praises of a once penniless, sickly and illiterate porter were literally sung here Saturday to honour the man who is on the cusp of becoming the first Canadian-born male saint.
Led by the Pontifical French Seminary choir, more than 1,000 pilgrims sang the hymn Frere Andre as a large black-and-white portrait of the lay brother was carried to the altar of Sant’Andrea della Valle, an ornate 17th-century church dedicated to Saint Andrew the Apostle.
It was standing-room-only at the prayer vigil on the eve of the big day. On Sunday, Brother Andre, will become the first male Catholic saint born in Canada during a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square.
“Simple, pauvre, humble frere, coeur d’apetre / Pour le royaume. Simple, pauvre, frere Andre / Dans ta priere prends les notres,” they sang as the portrait was placed on an easel, and immediately illuminated by the flashes of dozens of cameras.
The prayer vigil was led by Andre Richard, Archbishop of Moncton and a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the order Alfred Bessette joined in 1870 when he took the name Brother Andre.
At the event, the man to be known as Saint Andre Bessette was remembered as a compassionate man who stood out because of his inspiring life story and his unique way of helping people in pain.
Having lost both parents by age 12, Bessette was separated from his brothers and sisters and sent to live with family members. He tried unsuccessfully to make it on his own, drifting from job to job in Quebec before moving to New England, Gerard Dionne, a Holy Cross brother, told the crowd.
After returning to Quebec when he was in his early 20s, Bessette settled in St. Cesaire, Que., southeast of Montreal, where local priest Rev. Andre Provencal inspired him to devote himself to Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus Christ.
Bessette spent so much time praying to Saint Joseph, local children mocked him as “le fou de St. Joseph,” Dionne said.
Provencal recommended him to the Congregation of Holy Cross, which ran College Notre Dame in Cote des Neiges. “I’m sending you a saint,” Provencal said in his recommendation letter, Dionne noted.
Though wary because of Bessette’s poor health, the congregation took him in. Bessette became Brother Andre. He was given the lowly job of taking care of the school’s reception area.
For years, he dreamt of building a small chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph, across from College Notre Dame, on Mount Royal.
“Brother Andre placed a statue of St. Joseph on his windowsill, with the face turned toward the mountain,” Dionne said. “When people asked why, his answer was quite simple: Saint Joseph wants to have a chapel on the mountain where he can be honoured and prayed to.”
That chapel would be built in 1904 and then expanded a few years later. Untold numbers of people came to seek help from Brother Andre, who would tell them to rub oil that had burned in front of a statue of Saint Joseph on their bodies, and seek Saint Joseph’s help in prayer.
He became known as the Miracle Man of Montreal, with thousands of people attributing to him miraculous recoveries from everything from physical infirmities to tuberculosis to cancer.
Eventually, construction began on a grand building to replace Brother Andre’s simple chapel. But the worldwide economic depression of the 1920s stalled the project, leaving his superiors unable to gather the money to finish it.
A few weeks before his death in 1937, Brother Andre invited his superiors, who were unsure of how to proceed, to put their confidence in Saint Joseph, Dionne said.
“In middle of winter, they held a procession and placed a statue of Saint Joseph in the vast interior” of the roofless oratory.
“Just one year later, when Brother Andre was no longer in this world,” Dionne said, “we were able to finish this immense building, which became Saint Joseph’s Oratory, the biggest sanctuary in the world dedicated to Saint Joseph, visited by two million people every year.”
In a closing prayer, Rev. Richard Warner, the Rome-based superior general of the Congregation of Holy Cross, noted Brother Andre’s commitment to the poor and the afflicted and asked God to help others to follow in Andre’s footsteps.
“Through (Brother Andre’s) intercession, help us to follow his example of prayer and love and so come to share with him in your glory,” Warner said.
As they streamed out of Sant’Andrea della Valle, whose dome is the second largest in Rome, surpassed only by Saint Peter’s Basilica, pilgrims reflected on the man they came to celebrate.
“He was a humble man who helped the neediest in our world and he deserves to be honoured,” said Montreal resident Mary Vincelli. “This world needs role models and he’s one of the best.”
For Jacques Gilbert, also of Montreal, the prayer vigil was a bit of deja vu. He attended a similar event at Sant’Andrea della Valle in 1982, when Pope John Paul II beatified Brother Andre.
“I didn’t want to miss the actual canonization,” said Gilbert, 78. “It’s not every day you see a saint made.’Read more:

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