School's Namesake Offers Another Heavenly Intercessor

Yesterday, October 17th, 2010, the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Blessed Brother Andre Bessette of St. Joseph's Oratory was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, along with five other saints. We are truly in a period of saints, as more saints have been canonized by Pope John Paul II and Benedict than all other Holy Fathers in history - COMBINED!

The name of our school is spiritually joined to the famous mount upon which St. Joseph's Oratory was constructed.  A basilica now towers over Montreal on that very location, the fruit of Saint Andre's lifelong labors of healing the physically and spiritually disabled. A spiritual pilgrimage to the Oratory undertaken by our founding families inspired the very mission of our school. Saint Andre stated to all the pilgrims who traveled to him to extract his prayers, "Go to Joseph". Likewise, at our school we are ceaselessly petitioning St. Joseph to pray for the mission of our school.

Below, we will share excerpts from a reflection about our newest intercessor authored by Fr. Thomas Thomas Rosica, CSB.

"As porter of the College, Brother André lived in a small room located near the main entrance that also served as his office. He was also occupied with many menial tasks such as washing the floors and windows, cleaning lamps, and bringing in the firewood. Every day he rang the wake-up bell, cleaned rooms, picked up mail at the post office and, weekly, couriered laundry to and from resident pupils' houses. Another task that must have given him the opportunity for wonderful conversations was his role as barber for the students.

Brother André urged people who came to him to pray with confidence and perseverance, while remaining open to God’s will. He admonished people to begin their path to healing through commitments to faith and humility, through confession and a return to the sacraments. He encouraged the sick to seek a doctor’s care. He saw value in suffering that is joined to the sufferings of Christ. He allowed himself to be fully present to the sadness of others but always retained a joyful nature and good humor. At times he was seen weeping along with his visitors as they recounted to him their sorrows and difficulties. Word spread quickly when many of those with whom he prayed were healed. As Brother André was becoming known as a miracle worker, he insisted all the more, "I am nothing ... only a tool in the hands of Providence, a lowly instrument at the service of St. Joseph."

As the tensions increased at the College with so many of the sick coming to see the porter, the school officials decided that Brother André could no longer continue with his ministry. He was permitted to receive the sick in the nearby tramway station rather than the College. As his reputation spread, Brother André became quite a controversial figure. There were many religious in the Congregation of Holy Cross, teachers and parents of students at the College who supported him but many others opposed him and even considered him dangerous to the well-being of the school’s reputation because they regarded him as a charlatan. Others were concerned for the good health of the children, fearing the possibility of contagion in the school spread from diseases carried by the sick who frequented Brother André.

Brother André always had a strong devotion to St. Joseph, and in 1900 he received permission to raise money for a shrine to St. Joseph. The first shelter was constructed in 1904. Holy Cross authorities allowed for a room to be added to the Chapel and Brother André was assigned to live in that room where he could readily receive pilgrims and pray for them. He abandoned the tramway station and began receiving pilgrims at the Chapel of St. Joseph that would become the Oratory.

In 1909 Brother André was assigned full-time as the caretaker of the Oratory. He spent his days seeing sick people who came to him, and spent his evenings visiting the sick who could not make it to the Oratory. Construction on what would become known as St. Joseph’s Oratory began in 1914. A crypt church seating 1,000 was completed in 1917. By the 1920s the Oratory hosted over 1 million pilgrims annually, and hundreds of cures were attributed to his prayers every year.

Brother André died in Montreal on Jan. 6, 1937, without seeing the completion of his dream. It is estimated that over a million people visited his body during the week following his death. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 23, 1982, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. On Oct. 17, 2010, Brother André Bessette will be canonized, becoming the first male Canadian-born saint.

The miracle leading to his canonization occurred in 1999 when a 9-year-old boy had been the victim of an automobile accident, leaving him with a serious cranial injury and putting him in an irreversible coma leading toward death. The prayers of the people closest to him, along with the intercession of Brother André, brought him back to consciousness and health, and this was deemed scientifically unexplainable by medical experts.

“Pauper, servus et umilis”

Through Brother André’s efforts, suffering and faith, from a little chapel on a hillside of Mount Royal came forth a great Basilica that now dominates Montreal’s mountain and Canada’s spiritual landscape. St. Joseph’s Oratory is the world’s largest shrine dedicated to St. Joseph, built from a dream of Brother André Bessette. In this frail Brother of Holy Cross, God’s strength and might were revealed to the world. “Pauper, servus et umilis” are the Latin words written above his tomb at the Oratory in Montreal, meaning poor, servant and humble. They are also the words that are sung in the Panis Angelicus, the magnificent hymn about the Eucharist: poor, servant and humble. Who can say why was André chosen? In a beautiful circular letter to the Holy Cross family earlier this year, former Holy Cross Superior General Father Hugh Cleary wrote: “…perhaps André was chosen, like Mary and Joseph, because in the eyes of this world he was no one; he possessed nothing, nothing possessed him. … God possessed him giving him what he cared for most, giving him fulfillment to the deepest longing of his heart.” "

Please join us in imploring the intercession of Saint Andre and Saint Joseph, that our school will become a source of healing and hope for the future generations of all the families who send their children to Mount Royal Academy.