Tuesday January 7, St. Andre Bessetté, Religious
St. André was born in Quebec, and 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. 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.
Sickness and weakness dogged André from birth. He was the eighth of 12 children born to a French Canadian couple near Montreal. Adopted at 12, 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 25, 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 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.
Brother André expressed a saint’s faith by a lifelong devotion to St. Joseph, to whom he had been devoted since childhood.
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. “St. Joseph cures.” In the end he needed four secretaries to handle the 80,000 letters he received each year.
Through his many prayers and devotions, land was bought and a chapel built on Mount Royal. By 1931 there were gleaming walls, but money ran out. “Put a statue of St. Joseph in the middle. If he wants a roof over his head, he’ll get it.” The magnificent Oratory on Mount Royal took 50 years to build. The sickly boy who could not hold a job died at 92.
He is buried at the Oratory. He was beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2010. At his canonization in October 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said that St. Andre "lived the beatitude of the pure of heart."