Saint André Bessette: A Life of Prayer and Hospitality

By Rev. Ronald Raab, C.S.C.

Brother André Bessette was born on August 9, 1845, and died on January 6, 1937. He was canonized a saint on October 17, 2010. Pope Benedict XVI declared him a saint for the Universal Church in a ceremony in Rome. He is the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross bestowed this honor. Saint André believed in the healing power of Christ Jesus. His devotion to Saint Joseph was his guide to God’s fidelity.

Alfred Bessette, his baptismal name, came from humble beginnings. He became an orphan near Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was considered to be illiterate. He came from a large family but was weak in body and strength. He suffered from stomach ailments. Because of his frailty, he was not a suitable candidate for religious life. His life was filled with paradox. Yet, God raised him up to reveal to others how faith mends body and soul.

Alfred desired a life of prayer. He wanted to join a religious community. His pastor at his home parish suggested the Congregation of Holy Cross. The priest told the superiors of the community, “I am sending you a saint.” At first, Holy Cross was reluctant to accept him. However, they soon became aware of Alfred’s integrity and prayerfulness. Alfred became “Brother André,” as he entered religious life.

The Congregation of Holy Cross assigned Brother André to serve as Porter for Notre Dame College near Montreal. He ministered at the door for the next 40 years. However, he didn’t just open the physical door for guests, he began to open the door of faith for many who were sick, disabled, and in need of physical nourishment and security. Brother André’s devotion to Saint Joseph began to flourish in the encounters he had with people. Word of Andre’s healing touch spread rapidly. Brother André never sought out the limelight. André always realized that Saint Joseph was allowing people to receive the healing they needed, so he sought the foster father of Jesus. Brother André leaned deeply into his relationship with Saint Joseph and invited others to do the same.

People requested Brother André for spiritual healing for their children and also for themselves. Word spread before the Internet, before social media, and before television. The healing miracles began to emerge. At the high point of Brother André’s ministry, he encountered 600 people a day. He told them to be short, to be quick, because of the number of people in line to seek his faith and healing touch. Brother André did not have the physical strength to spend much time with the many requests that came to the door of the college. Yet, he welcomed their stories and their souls.

The Holy Cross community in which Brother André served struggled at times to support the ministry of Brother André. They were confused about what to do with all the people who wanted just a moment of advice from the saintly man. As with any prophetic person, Brother André just did not fit into the ministry and life of the other members of the Holy Cross community. Brother André persisted in his inner call to bring people to Saint Joseph and to the sacraments of the Church.

Brother André spent his days listening to people’s requests for healing and their stories of pain, anguish, and uncertainty. Perhaps, even more importantly, Brother André spent his nights praying for the people with whom he encountered during the day. It was not unusual for Brother André to sleep only an hour or two at night. He wanted to work through the pain people confessed to him. He knew people needed spiritual help and he kept knocking on heaven’s door all through the night. His life was purely devoted to God. He begged God to heal the people whom he listened to during the daylight hours. God consumed him. People’s suffering became his life work, his prayer, and his way of life.

One of the most important aspects of Brother André’s life was hospitality, which may be defined as the radical acceptance of others. To truly listen to people’s anguish, their stories, and their suffering became his holy hospitality. People felt heard by Brother André, even though their encounters with him were often brief. They experienced a recognition from another human being that their lives mattered. When doctors and healthcare workers gave up on people’s healing, Brother André accepted them. He put a spiritual arm around them. He comforted them with his integrity and his prayerful heart. Hospitality for André became his life and true acceptance of people became his spiritual story.

When Brother André was canonized in October 2010, I was serving at the Downtown Chapel in Portland, Oregon. That parish later became Saint André Bessette Church. The parish community served people who survived on the streets, people with emotional and mental illnesses, and people struggling with addictions. This simple community reached out to many people at that time with hundreds of monthly volunteers. The community tended to its hospitality toward the suffering. People came to that parish who did not fit into any other system of support services.

My life has been changed by Saint André. I know he interceded in our midst. We invoked his name daily. We waited for him to reveal his healing touch in our midst. Brother André was celebrated on the streets of that parish community.

When I first arrived at the parish, two men were murdered at the front door. Daniel was murdered at 3:00 a.m. Two weeks later, I asked the parish to gather at 3:00 a.m. I found Daniel’s family and asked them to come to the parish to pray for healing on the streets. We listened to the family and invited them to wash the blood of their son and brother off the street with prayer and community support. Brother André journeyed with us that early morning. We all knew he was there to support the mother of the eighteen-year-old who had been shot nine times. Brother André walked with us; he showed us how to listen that night. Brother André called us to prayer in the nighttime, to trust in the merciful peace of God.

Please pray on January 6, his feast day, for the healing of the sick, the discouraged, and the forgotten. Saint André Bessette, pray for us.

Litany of Prayer: For the Murdered

I authored this litany for that night of prayer with Daniel’s family. For each murder in our neighborhood, our worshipping community processed out from our church to the sight of the murder. We prayed this ten times in my years in the parish. It is published by World Library Publications, Chicago, IL, in “Save Us, Send Us.”

Response: Save Us, O God

From the brutality of murder and violence:
From the hardship of poverty and loss:
From the addiction of drugs and alcohol:

From the fear of isolation and hardship:
From the evil of war and hatred:
From the corruption of sin and darkness:

From the terror of gunshots and stabbings:
From the suffering of illness and disease:
From the cold of loneliness and self-pity:

From the bitterness of homelessness and empty pockets:
From the plague of prostitution and pornography:
From the chains of mental illness and all discriminations:

From the desperation of pride and jealousy:
From the silence of apathy and neglect:
From the wounds of sexual molestation and abuse:

From the deserts of ignorance and suffering:
From the arrogance of racism and greed:
From the burden of grief and despair:

From the torture of broken promises and empty commitments:
From the doubt of selfishness and insecurity:
From the web of egoism and self-centeredness:

From the outrage of revenge and the death penalty:
From the seduction of materialism and gossip:
From the sins of gluttony and avarice:

From the dark cloud of sexism and ageism:
From the trap of cynicism and refusal to forgive:
And from all evil:

And from all evil:
And from all evil:
And from all evil:

—————-

About:
Rev. Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., serves as religious superior of Holy Cross House, our retirement and medical facility at Notre Dame, Indiana. He is an award-winning author, blogger, and visual artist. Learn more at ronaldraab.com

Art:
Fr. Ron served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Colorado Springs from 2013-2022. He painted this image of Saint André for the renovation of the church in 2018.

Published: December 22, 2023

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