On October 17, 2010, St. André Bessette became Holy Cross’ first saint when he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. On this day, the Church recognized that God chose a very simple man for a remarkable life of service to the Church.
Alfred Bessette was born in Quebec on August 9, 1845, and he was orphaned by the time he was 12. He had to work to support himself and had little formal education, but from an early age he had a lively faith and a strong devotion to St. Joseph. After a few years trying to find work in the United States, he returned to Quebec, where his childhood pastor encouraged him to consider a vocation to religious life. He sent Alfred to the Holy Cross Brothers with a note that said, “I am sending you a saint.”
Alfred entered the Holy Cross Novitiate on December 27, 1870 and took the name André. Brother André was assigned as doorkeeper of Notre Dame College in Montreal, and he continued this assignment as a professed brother. Among his many duties, he greeted visitors and tended to their needs. Eventually many people began to experience physical healings after praying with Brother André.
His reputation began to spread. So many people flocked to see him that the Congregation allowed him to see sick people at a trolley station across the street. The crowds got larger, more cures were reported, and Brother André became increasingly well-known. Through it all Brother André remained humble, often seeming confused that people would lavish such praise on him. He knew that the real source of these miraculous cures was St. Joseph’s intercession.
His desire to increase devotion to St. Joseph inspired him to found a shrine to his favorite saint across the street from Notre Dame College. He saved the money he earned from giving haircuts at five cents apiece, eventually earning the $200 he needed to construct a simple structure. This shrine opened on October 19, 1904, and in 1909, Brother André was released from his duties as doorkeeper and assigned full-time as the caretaker of the Oratory of St. Joseph.
The Oratory attracted large numbers of pilgrims, and plans were made to construct a large basilica. Brother André’s full-time ministry for the rest of his life was to receive the long lines of sick visitors who flocked to the Oratory to see him. He became known as the “Miracle Man of Montreal,” and thousands of miraculous healings were attributed to his intercession over the following decades.
Brother André died on January 6, 1937 at the age of 91. During the week that his body lay in state outside of St. Joseph’s Oratory, it is estimated that one million people braved the bitter Montreal winter to pay their respects. The basilica was eventually completed and remains a major pilgrimage site, attracting over two million visitors a year. The side chapels are filled with the crutches of people healed through St. André’s prayers.
Watch the short video below to learn more about St. André's life and its meaning.