January 5, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. André Bessette, "The Miracle Worker of Montreal"

St. André Bessette
January 6th, is the optional memorial of Saint André Bessette (1845- 1937), a Canadian religious of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, whose heroic service to the humble and the sickly, despite his own ill health, earned him the designation, “The Miracle Worker of Montreal”. God raised up this poor, uneducated man to be a model of holiness and obedience. When Brother Andréa first entered the Congregation, he was of such poor health that his superiors were uncertain where to place him. They finally assigned him to be a doorkeeper. Afterword, Bro. André would say "They showed me the door and I stayed there for 40 years."

André Bessette was born, the eighth of twelve children, to Isaac and Clothilde Bessette in the farming village of St. Gregoire, near Quebec. Isaac and Clothilde were deeply devout Catholics who instructed their children in the habits of prayer and hard work. From the beginning, André demonstrated a unique capacity for the things of God. Tragically, his parents would die, leaving him an orphan at age 12. André then went to live with his aunt, Mrs. Timothée Nadeau, and her family in Saint Cesaire. He worked on their farm and at several trades, all to no avail, on account of his acute physical frailty and constant illness.

Bro. André later said "I was never very strong. From the time when I was a little boy, ten years old, I have suffered from dyspepsia [indigestion]. … I have had it all during my life, and it still annoys me. When I was living with my uncle and was very young, I could not go to school much because I was always sick. Once I tried to become a shoemaker, but I could not stand bending over and being inside the place so much, and my health made me give it up. [A]fter a little while, when I thought I was strong enough, I tried to become a baker, but... I found that my health would not let me do inside work. It seems that I was never very strong."

At the age of 25, with little formal education, he entered the Holy Cross Order at Notre Dame College in Montreal. As a doorkeeper, the future saint came into contact with many people at the school, including the poor and the sick seeking healing and guidance. Bro. André’s advice was always the same. He told them to pray, especially to Saint Joseph. André had an intense devotion to our Lord’s earthly protector. So great was this devotion, that Bro. André established an Oratory dedicated to St. Joseph where God’s grace and health could be dispensed to the numerous pilgrim visitors who flocked there. He would spend long days in the Oratory with lines of sick people intent on a personal audience with him.

The Congregation of the Holy Cross professes that the cross of Christ is our only hope. Bro. André lived that truth every day, through his own painful suffering, and in attending to the suffering of others. He willingly accepted God's mission. He did not go and seek this ministry; it literally came to his doorstep. Since he was obedient to the will of Christ and willing to see the face of Christ in the people he served, God was able to make great things happen through him.  St. André Bessette died in Montreal on Jan. 6, 1937. He was beatified on May 23, 1982, by Saint John Paul and canonized on Oct. 17, 2010, by Pope Benedict XVI. Lord our God, friend of the lowly, who gave your servant, Saint André 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. Saint André Bessette, pray for us!

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