Saint Brother Andre
Miracle Worker of Montreal
Healer, Religious, Doorkeeper, Dreamer of Dreams
As with many Saints that we have written about, when Blessed André died on January 6, 1937, the Faithful had already proclaimed him a Saint. In the case of Blessed André of Mont Royal, or Montreal, Canada, not only the citizens of that city, but indeed all of French Canada considered him a Saint during his lifetime. There was an expression which circulated French Canada during the early 1900’s when something could not be done, “Hey, I’m not Brother André. I can’t get it done.” One of the resource books we’re using for this life of Blessed André is “Brother André, Miracle Worker of Mont Royal.” This title just about expresses what Brother André was and did. The Lord worked powerfully through him and all was done through the intercession of, and to give honor to St. Joseph. The monument to St. Joseph, high on a hill overlooking all of Montreal, is a tribute from Brother André to St. Joseph; but we believe it’s also a tribute from St. Joseph and our Heavenly family as well as the people of Montreal to their own Brother André.
No one wanted the humble doorkeeper forgotten, nor did they wish his memory to be romanticized or altered in any way. Therefore, for the eight years following his death, forty-nine of the most reliable witnesses were individually questioned regarding events surrounding Blessed André’s life. Everything was carefully taken down in short-hand, so that the investigators could later read their answers and make sure their testimony had been accurately recorded. Having agreed that it had, they then signed documents, swearing under oath that all they had testified was true.
Over three thousand pages of eye-witness testimony was accumulated, only to have Rome, twenty-five years later in 1962, appoint other Church officials in Montreal to conduct an inquiry delving more specifically into Blessed André’s life. This would result in nine hundred more pages by another twenty-two witnesses. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Church or in the world more documented or better known than the humble Doorkeeper who founded Saint Joseph’s Oratory.
Blessed André, the child
Alfred Bessette (later known as Brother André) came from very humble beginnings, much like those of Jesus. He was born on August 9, 1845. The baby was so frail and sickly, his parents were afraid he would not live; and so Alfred was baptized the moment he was born. He was conditionally baptized (when there is doubt concerning a previous Baptism) the following day in the church. With the loving care and prayers of a very pious mother, our future Blessed lived to an old age! But, like other great Saints before and after him, Brother André would have serious bouts with debilitating illnesses to the day he died.
His parents, Isaac Bessette and Clothilde Foisy were young when they married. The little family had virtually no money; Isaac was, like St. Joseph before him, a carpenter. We believe that Brother André’s first exposure to St. Joseph, and the great devotion he had for the foster father of Jesus, came from his own saintly father. Isaac married Clothilde when she was only seventeen years old. As she was from the Parish of Saint Joseph in Chambly, she taught her son Alfred about Jesus’ earthly father, at an early age. When questioned later on in life, Brother André
would tell everyone about the great devotion and love he had for St. Joseph came from his mother who taught him from the cradle to know and love this great Saint, and his own father who represented St. Joseph on earth for young Alfred.
Alfred loved to pray from the time he was a little boy. He later spoke of those special moments when the family gathered to pray together, how he would sit close to his mother and finger the beads on her Rosary as they recited the mysteries. The two people who meant so much to little Alfred were taken away from him at an early age. First, his father died in an accident, and then six years later, he lost his mother to a dreaded, debilitating illness, tuberculosis. Family life as he knew it, would never be the same. Alfred had no mother and father; he had his heavenly Mother and father, Our Lady, and St. Joseph.
Alfred has a dream that points to his vocation
Brother André never spoke of ecstasies, visions or inner locutions; he called them dreams. Although he would later call this time in a foreign country, away from all he knew and loved, his time in exile, he was not alone; his Saint Joseph was with him. Alfred had a dream that he was working in a field. In his dream he leaned tiredly on a rake, and asked Saint Joseph: “Where shall I die?” Before him he saw a huge stone building unlike anything he had ever seen. He never forgot this dream; years later, when he entered Notre Dame College in Montreal, he recognized it as the building in his dream. Although he did not die there, he would spend forty years of his life in this college as an instrument of God.
At the end of his novitiate, Brother André was assigned to be Doorkeeper of Notre Dame College, the college-seminary of the Order. As he entered the grounds of the college for the first time and looked at the building he realized, it was the stone building, he had seen in his dream! He stayed in this position as doorkeeper for forty years.
André had many tasks which he took very seriously, and he did them all faithfully, snatching precious moments during the day to pray. Although he was a man of prayer, he never neglected his assigned responsibilities. As a matter of fact, all of the activities for which he became famous, were done for the most part in his off-duty time as doorkeeper. As doorkeeper he answered the doorbell and welcomed visitors. Part of this position involved looking for religious or students for whom the visitors had come. This gave him an opportunity to talk to them about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as he was leading them to the parlor. Besides being the porter of the door, another duty was to keep the parlor and the three corridors of the college neat and clean. In between all these loving tasks, he was the school barber. André loved this job particularly because, as he was cutting the brothers’ hair, he had a captive audience. It was one on one; he could lead them to a deeper understanding and consequently a more profound devotion to Saint Joseph. He remembered always the words of the bishop about making the homage to St. Joseph well-known.
He also had chores outside the college. He was given the responsibility to go to town on different errands. One of these was picking up the mail. Another was driving to the students’ homes on Saturday and doing their laundry. He considered all of these tasks very important, offering everything he did to the cause of St. Joseph. He prayed as he performed these tasks. As André went about his varied duties, the townspeople got to know him. They started to tell him about people who were suffering with illnesses. He went to their homes, visited with them, prayed with them, and then rubbed the ailing person with some oil from the lamp which burned in front of Saint Joseph’s statue in the college chapel. Somehow this angel of mercy was able to do all this and not neglect his appointed duties. As Mother Angelica says, “Unless we are willing to do the ridiculous, God cannot do the miraculous.”
As the ill began to heal miraculously, the word spread. More and more people stopped him and asked him to go to a loved one who was ailing. They lovingly called him: “good Brother André.” He healed the sick. They told everyone he was a saint, to his deep dismay. Brother André constantly corrected them, insisting always that it was through Saint Joseph’s intercession that the healings took place.
This frail brother, whom his Superiors thought would be a burden, did the much needed work of ten religious. He was kept so busy, he would sit off in a corner of the dining room, barely taking time to eat. It is miraculous in itself when you think how this man, who could just about eat a mouthful of food because he suffered terribly with pains in his stomach, could have had all the energy he had, never complaining as he humbly and diligently went about doing his work.
Pupils and parents alike soon discovered in this unaffected, humble doorkeeper, a man of deep faith, someone they could turn to. In a world where no one cared whether most people lived or died, Brother André sat with them, listened to them, held their hands and cried with them. With his openness and friendly, loving disposition, he touched many, and they opened up to him, sharing illnesses of mind, body and spirit. He always consoled them by saying, “I’ll pray for you.” Which he did, and miracles started to happen!
One day, while working in the infirmary, Brother André visited a boy who was burning up with an extremely high fever. He ordered him to get up! He said “You are in perfect health. Get up and go out and play.” Although the boy was reluctant at first, he jumped up and went to join his classmates in the playground. College authorities were livid! They scolded, “You had no right to interfere; the boy is ill!” André gently implored them to have a doctor examine the boy; he would tell them, the boy was completely healed. He insisted: “St. Joseph cured him!” The Superior became very upset with André and his claims of St. Joseph healing all the time, but when the doctor came and examined the student, he dismissed him with a clean bill of health.
Cases of Smallpox attacked students and religious alike in a neighboring school, Holy Cross College of St. Laurent. Many were dying! Brother André asked to minister to the sick. When he stepped into the infirmary at Holy Cross, his heart went out to the sick and dying jammed into the room. He knelt down at the entrance and prayed for all he was worth to Saint Joseph to relieve the sick. There was not one death recorded after that time.
Although Brother André always insisted vehemently that full credit went to Jesus through the intercession of St. Joseph, people started to flock to the school entrance of Notre Dame College where he was doorkeeper. Soon crowds of the poor and helpless came, without money but with hope. The lame came; they had heard of how the crippled were cured, and they wanted to walk. The sick came; they knew of the infirmed miraculously healed, and they wanted to be cured. The disabled came; they wanted to be whole again, to function as their brothers and sisters. He welcomed them into the small cell he occupied next to the parlor. As he had little use for his cot, because he spent most of the night on his knees praying, Brother André would sometimes have an ill person rest in his room. He spoke to them all; he told them to pray; he then anointed them with some oil from a lamp which burned in front of a statue of St. Joseph.
We could go on and on about the miraculous events credited to Brother André and still not be able to account for all of them.
If you ever visit Montreal you will certainly want to visit the Magnificent Oratory of Saint Joseph on Mont Royal and pray at the tomb of Saint Brother Andre.