By Anne Louise Mahoney, Managing Editor
He was an uneducated man whose health was always frail, yet he achieved so much and touched so many lives! Alfred Bessette was born in a little town in Quebec in 1845; he was so fragile, the midwife attending the birth didn’t expect him to survive. Yet this humble man lived to be 91 years old, and is now a canonized saint.
Saint Brother André: Friend of Saint Joseph and Healer of the Sick tells the remarkable story of this faithful servant of God, from his early life and his devotion to God as a young person, to his quest for work, his call to religious life and much more. Although this book is aimed at young readers, it can inspire people of all ages. The text (by Georges Madore) is engaging and accessible, and the full-colour illustrations (by Céleste Gagnon) draw readers in, making them feel like they are part of the action.
As a member of the Holy Cross community in Montreal, where he was merely the porter, or doorkeeper, Brother André spent countless hours visiting the sick. Because he was devoted to Saint Joseph, he would often give them a medal featuring that saint, or some oil that had been burning in front of a statue of Saint Joseph in the chapel. Some people were healed of their illnesses, and soon many flocked to see “the miracle man of Montreal,” as one author called him. Brother André took no credit, saying, “I am only Saint Joseph’s little dog.”
Brother André had a dream: to build a chapel dedicated to his beloved Saint Joseph. That building soon became too small for the many pilgrims who journeyed there, and plans were made to build a basilica. When Brother André died in 1937, Saint Joseph’s Oratory was ready to receive his body. A million people came to pay their respects. Brother André (St. André Bessette) was declared a saint in 2010: his feast day is January 7.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory remains a major pilgrimage site today, 80 years since his death. Over two million pilgrims and tourists visit the Oratory every year.
Brother André’s life teaches us that no matter what our gifts and talents, our status in the community, or our physical strength may be, we can all help to build God’s kingdom by being faithful witnesses and caring for others.
St. André Bessette, pray for us!