Dec. 6, 2015 Wednesday: St. Andre Bessette
“I am only a man, just like you,” time after time Brother André Bessette reminded petitioners who came to him. Known as a miracle worker of healing during his lifetime, this humble lay brother insisted on giving all the credit to God, the faith of those healed, and the intercession of St. Joseph. Quietly, he said, “I will pray for you.” Time after time, healing came.
Brother André was born Alfred Bessette in 1845 in a small town near Montreal. He was the sixth of ten children of a carpenter and woodcutter. At his birth, Alfred was so frail that the midwife baptized him immediately. Throughout life, his health remained poor. No one would have predicted that he would live to the ripe old age of ninety-one.
Son of a woodcutter, and eighth of twelve children. When Alfred was only nine years old, his father was killed in a work-related accident, his mother of tuberculosis, and he was adopted at age twelve by a farmer uncle who insisted he work for his keep. Over the years Andre worked as a farmhand, shoemaker, baker, blacksmith, and factory worker. At 25 he applied to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross; Andre was initially refused due to poor health, but he gained the backing of Bishop Bourget, and was accepted.
Doorkeeper at Notre Dame College, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. He spent much of each night in prayer, and on his window sill, facing Mount Royal, was a small statue of Saint Joseph, to whom Andre was especially devoted. “Some day,” Andre believed, “Saint Joseph will be honored on Mount Royal.”
Andre had a special ministry to the sick. He would rub the sick person with oil from a lamp in the college chapel, and many were healed. Word of his power spread, and when an epidemic broke out at a nearby college, Andre volunteered to help; no one died. The trickle of sick people to his door became a flood. His superiors were uneasy; diocesan authorities were suspicious; doctors called him a quack. “I do not cure,” he always said; “Saint Joseph cures.” By his death, he was receiving 80,000 letters each year from the sick who sought his prayers and healing.
For many years the Holy Cross authorities had tried to buy land on Mount Royal. Brother Andre and others climbed the steep hill and planted medals of Saint Joseph on it, and soon after, the owners yielded, which incident helped the current devotion to Saint Joseph by those looking to buy or sell a home. Andre collected money to build a small chapel and received visitors there, listening to their problems, praying, rubbing them with Saint Joseph‘s oil, and curing many. The chapel is still in use.
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.