Fr. Eric Schimmel, C.S.C., continues his posting from André House in Phoenix. Given that the namesake of their ministry to the poor and homeless is being canonized in less than two weeks, Fr. Eric decided to share with us some stories about one of their guests named Andre.
Andre has been around André House for some time, but he has not always been here, nor needed our services. In fact, Andre used to be a professor at a well respected university back East. One day I ran into Andre in the afternoon as he was sitting in our office waiting to make a phone call. Honestly, I did not notice anything out of the ordinary at first as I was distracted by a couple of things also happening in that office. When I looked at Andre again, however, I noticed that he was completely wet. Of course, I had to ask: "Andre, did you shower with your clothes on?"
"The dog ate my homework, Father. That's all I gotta say. The dog ate my homework." Yes, Andre did (and sometimes still does) shower with his clothes on. Although we offer both showers and laundry services at André House, I guess Andre sometimes does both at the same time in his own unique way.
This is a man who I have known to be full of compassion. Once he asked me to fill out some paperwork to make sure that children starving in other countries have enough to eat. I have also found that things don't always connect for him the same way that they might for us. The paperwork he had to help the starving children in other countries was actually his application for food stamps.
Just the other day he was making a long distance phone call – one of the services we offer. Again, as I walked through the office where he was making his call, Andre caught my attention. This time he said that he had someone that I needed to talk to and handed me the phone. I quickly found out that I was talking to his mother, a saintly sounding woman who was celebrating her birthday that day.
As I spoke with her briefly, trying to get the phone back to Andre as quickly as I could so that she could hear her own son's voice on her birthday, I said a prayer that during the course of that phone call we would have the lucid Andre return so that he could properly wish his own mother a Happy Birthday (I will just say that she is over 85). I could hear the love for him in her voice as we spoke.
I thought to myself how lucky I am to have so many blessings – blessings that I am conscious of and can use. I thought about Andre, and the blessings he has too. Andre is obviously very intelligent and very gifted. He was a university professor. Even on days when he does not seem completely with it he can still kick my can in chess. In his own way, I sometimes notice him checking up on me and/or the rest of the staff. He also is blessed with a mother who still loves him dearly.
Still, I never quite know what I am going to get when I speak with Andre. Some days things are quite clear. Other days, it just seem like "the dog ate our homework." I do know that this tall and relatively big man has always been a gentle giant around André House. And there have been times when I have suspected that more is going on inside than you might guess. Even with the instance in which he seemed to be talking nonsense and handed me the phone so that I could talk to his mom on her birthday, we know that something had clicked for him that day. Something – I would say grace – reminded him that this was an important day to call his mom. Perhaps he intuitively knew that the best birthday gift he could give her was to let her know that he is safe and is around people who love and care for him.
As Brother André Bessette, CSC, welcomed many people who came to him for healing, we know that even more came just to feel the grace of God at work. I have felt God's humor and God's compassion through Big Andre. I hope and pray that we at André House, and that all of us who live as people of faith, can welcome those God sends to us as well – and in our own unique ways to share His love and compassion with them all.