The first Holy Cross religious to be canonized, St. André Bessette (born Alfred Bessette on August 9, 1845 in Quebec) had boundless trust in St. Joseph, his friend, and guide. St. Joseph can be seen as the saint of everyday life, to whom one turns for help with both minor worries and at life-defining moments.
When Bessette entered the Holy Cross novitiate in Montreal, he was assigned to be the doorkeeper at Notre Dame College, a role he continued after he was a professed brother. His job mostly entailed receiving visitors and students’ parents. However, the daily flow of people soon started to include the sick, who had heard of healings occurring through the prayers of the humble brother.
“Brother André, if you want to, you can cure me,” they would say. “No, not I, but St. Joseph can cure you if you put your trust in him,” he always insisted to those who came to him.
It was his acceptance of others that led him to this ministry to tend to the suffering and the downtrodden. He would pray to St. Joseph with them, asking them to have confidence in this saint to whom he had been deeply devoted since childhood.
Many people began to experience physical healings after praying with Br. André Bessette, C.S.C., and his reputation as a healer 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. Through it all, Br. 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.
It was his desire to increase devotion to St. Joseph that inspired him to build a shrine to his favorite saint. He decided to locate it 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, Br. André was released from his duties as doorkeeper and assigned full-time as the caretaker of the St. Joseph Oratory.
The Oratory attracted large numbers of pilgrims, and plans were made to construct a large basilica. Br. 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.
Br. 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, an estimated 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. St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, founded in 1904, is the largest shrine in the world dedicated to him.
On October 17, 2010, St. André Bessette became the first saint of the Congregation of Holy Cross 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. He had previously been beatified by Blessed John Paul II on May 23, 1982.
About St. Joseph’s Oratory
The Oratory was brought alive through the work and ingenuity of numerous architects and thousands of workers in a process spanning six decades. With its monumental scale, Renaissance Revival facade, and contrasting Art Deco interior, the Oratory is recognizable not just in Montreal but around the world, attracting more than 2 million visitors and pilgrims to its steps each year.
Rising more than 30 meters above Mount Royal’s summit, it is the highest building in Montreal and can be seen from many kilometers away. Fortunately, as pandemic restrictions have been gradually lifted, Saint Joseph’s Oratory has begun to receive more visitors.
“It is great to see more people visiting the Oratory, enjoying the beautiful surroundings outside,” explains Rev. Michael M. DeLaney, C.S.C., rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory. “We are still under Covid restrictions, but the number of visitors allowed in at any given time has increased, allowing more and more to come and experience the beauty and the prayerfulness of the surroundings.”
The month of August is an important month at Saint Joseph’s Oratory as it commemorates the month of the birth of Br. André on August 9, 1845. There are many special activities planned, in-person as well as virtual, that will reach thousands of followers (visit the website for more information).
Special masses and concerts will be held during the traditional Br. Andre Triduum, the 3 days prior to the August 9, when masses and dedicated homilies are given that reflect the theme of the year. The Oratory can host 250 people in attendance while also reaching a broader audience through streaming (Facebook and YouTube). Music concerts are scheduled for both August 8 and August 9.
Each Wednesday will feature special masses for the sick, for both in-person and online viewing. People are invited to send prayer intentions that will be remembered at that mass other masses during the week.
“St. André is known for his healing ministry, and bringing hope to many,” adds Fr. Mike. “We want to do all we can to remember those in need of healing in their lives and assure them of our prayers.”
The Oratory is pleased to announce that they have re-instituted the popular tradition of hosting outdoor Masses, which will be held on Sunday, August 29th. In the past, thousands would show up for the outdoor mass in front of the Oratory. This year there will be two Masses, one at 11:00 a.m in French and the other at 3:00 pm in Spanish. Each Mass will be accompanied by the music groups for each Mass.
“We are hoping that many people will attend and participate,” adds Fr. Mike. “We promise to pray for good weather!”
The final activity of the month is a prayer dedicated to Saint André and a blessing for the faithful on Sunday, August 29 at 4:30 pm outside the original chapel, located on the hillside above the Oratory.
Prayers will be offered to this humble brother whose life has blessed the Congregation of Holy Cross. Many apostolates, community residences, and pastoral ministries for the sick around the world are named after him, extending his spirit and presence from the mountainside in Montreal across the Holy Cross world. The ministries which carry the name of St. André will be remembered during a prayer said outside the Chapel that he built, and where he would receive pilgrims and visitors seeking his blessing and healing.
The Oratory also has ongoing activities dedicated to the Year of St. Joseph. Many are still virtual, but there are some in-person events in the mix as well. Please check the Oratory website for these.
A personal note from Fr. Mike DeLaney, C.S.C.:
“We look forward to receiving visitors from the US after the restrictions on Americans are lifted. After August 9, vaccinated people will be able to legally enter Canada as tourists. On September 7, fully vaccinated people from other countries will also be allowed entry into Canada as tourists. The border has been closed to tourism from the United States (and most all other countries) since March 18, 2020 – so this is a welcome sign for all. Only fully vaccinated people are eligible to enter with these new guidelines. All Holy Cross religious and our many colleagues should consider this your invitation to start making plans to come to visit us! You are most welcome!”