January 6, 2016

Optional Memorial of Saint André Bessette, Religious

St. André Bessette
Alfred Bessette was born in Mont-Saint-Grégoire, Quebec, a town 25 miles southeast of Montreal on August 9, 1845. He was the eighth of 12 children [four of whom died in infancy]. So frail was he at birth that the priest baptized him conditionally. He was from a working-class family; his father, Isaac Bessette, was a carpenter and lumberman, and his mother, Clothilde Foisy Bessette, saw to the education of her children.

St. André entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross as a Brother. He performed humble tasks for over forty years and entrusted all of the poor and sick who flocked to his cell to the care of St. Joseph. Brother André expressed a saint's faith by a lifelong devotion to Saint Joseph. During his life he was able to have a chapel built to the spouse of the Virgin Mary. After his death, the shrine grew into the great basilica known as St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal.

The Life of St. André Bessette

Sickness and weakness dogged André from birth. He was the eighth of twelve children born to a French Canadian couple near Montreal. Adopted at twelve, when both parents had died, he became a farmhand. Various trades followed: shoemaker, baker, blacksmith-all failures. He was a factory worker in the United States during the boom times of the Civil War.

At twenty-five, he applied for entrance into the Congregation of the Holy Cross. After a year's novitiate, he was not admitted because of his weak health. But with an extension and the urging of Bishop Bourget (see Marie-Rose Durocher, October 6), he was finally received. He was given the humble job of doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal, with additional duties as sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. "When I joined this community, the superiors showed me the door, and I remained forty years."

In his little room near the door, he spent much of the night on his knees. On his windowsill, facing Mount Royal, was a small statue of Saint Joseph, to whom he had been devoted since childhood. When asked about it he said, "Some day, Saint Joseph is going to be honored in a very special way on Mount Royal!"

When he heard someone was ill, he visited to bring cheer and to pray with the sick person. He would rub the sick person lightly with oil taken from a lamp burning in the college chapel. Word of healing powers began to spread.

When an epidemic broke out at a nearby college, André volunteered to nurse. Not one person 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 said again and again. "Saint Joseph cures." In the end he needed four secretaries to handle the eighty thousand letters he received each year.

For many years the Holy Cross authorities had tried to buy land on Mount Royal. Brother André and others climbed the steep hill and planted medals of Saint Joseph. Suddenly, the owners yielded. André collected two hundred dollars to build a small chapel and began receiving visitors there-smiling through long hours of listening, applying Saint Joseph's oil. Some were cured, some not. The pile of crutches, canes and braces grew.

The chapel also grew. By 1931 there were gleaming walls, but money ran out. "Put a statue of Saint Joseph in the middle. If he wants a roof over his head, he'll get it." The magnificent Oratory on Mount Royal took fifty years to build. The sickly boy who could not hold a job died at ninety.

He is buried at the Oratory and was beatified in 1982. On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a decree recognizing a second miracle at Blessed André’s intercession and on October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formally declared sainthood for Blessed André.

Excerpted from Saint of the Day, Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

Read more about the life of St. André Bessette.

Collect Prayer

Lord our God, friend of the lowly, who gave your servant, Saint Andre Bessette, a great devotion to Saint Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted, help us through his intercession to follow his example of prayer and love and so come to share with him in your glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


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