Today the Church in Canada celebrates the liturgical memorial of Blessed Brother Andre.
Last week, during my home visit to Montreal, several of us inquired at the Oratory for an opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist in the crypt at St. Joseph's Oratory. The Holy Cross Fathers were most hospitable and arranged for us to celebrate Mass at 2PM.
Even though the Mass was not scheduled, some thirty of the faithful participated in our celebration (as well as those of other faiths--Buddhists, Hindus who come to this "holy place).
Our pilgrim Mass was in thanksgiving to God for the intercession of St. Joseph and for the life and service to God's people of Brother Andre whose canonization is imminent. It was in fulfilment of this prayer said on numerous occasions during visits to the Oratory from the time I first began to frequent the shrine as a boy, taking relatives from the 'States to explore the nooks and crannies of the Oratory, including Brother Andre's room over the original small chapel.
A suppliant prays at the tomb of Brother Andre, just outside the crypt church
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He's long been known as "the Miracle Man of Montreal", but it was only last month, nearly 73 years after the death of Alfred Bessette (who took the religious name Brother Andre), that the Vatican approved a miracle leading to his canonization.
On Dec. 19, Pope Benedict signed a decree approving that a miracle was undoubtedly due to the intercession of Brother Andre, who was beatified in 1982. Blessed Andre Bessette could be canonized as early as this year.
In St. Joseph's Oratory - the church built through Brother Andre's deep devotion to St. Joseph - crutches line the walls, all because of the healings attributed to his prayers both before and after his death.
Beginning in 1872, Brother Andre began visiting the sick to pray with them and bring them good cheer. He also rubbed the sick with oil taken from a lamp in front of a statue of St. Joseph.
Within about five years, people began to experience healings that they attributed to the prayers Brother Andre said over them. By 1916, at least 435 such cures were reported to have taken place.
Brother Andre also worked tirelessly and raised money to build a shrine to St. Joseph.
A chapel he built by hand was soon too small and he began work on a much larger church that was still far from completion when he died in 1937 at age 91. In 1967, St. Joseph's Oratory was finally completed, though it is always undergoing renewal.
When he is canonized, Brother Andre will be only the second native-born Canadian saint. Sainte Marguerite d'Youville was the first.
Known for his intense piety, famed for miraculous cures and praised for his dedication to seeing a shrine built on Mount Royal to honour St. Joseph, Blessed Andre is set to be the Holy Cross Congregation's first saint (their founder Basil Moreau was recently beatified).
In a statement released by the oratory Dec. 19, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal said he was happy because "Brother Andre takes pride of place among the builders of our diocesan Church."
In the same statement, the vice postulator for Blessed Andre's cause, Holy Cross Father Mario Lachapelle, said that with the papal decree "one of the most significant pages in our collective history has been written."
The congregation's superior general in Rome, Holy Cross Father Hugh Cleary, said, “What a grace for our religious family to count among its ranks such a model of the Christian life offered to the world, a true inspiration for a welcoming, compassionate presence,” according to the Oratory press release.
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« Moi, je ne suis rien, un outil dans les mains de la Providence, un pauvre instrument de saint Joseph… S’il y avait eu plus ignorant que moi, le bon Dieu l’aurait choisi à ma place. » – Frère André Bessette
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Born Alfred Bessette on Aug. 9, 1845, in Saint-Gregoire d'Iberville, Quebec, he was one of 12 children and suffered from a chronic stomach ailment that kept him out of school and often without work.
A few years after his father's death, his mother died, but their piety and trust in God had deeply influenced Blessed Andre. When he reached the age of 18, he set out for New England in search of employment. He spent four years working in cotton mills and farms in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In 1867 he returned to Canada and sought the help of his childhood parish priest,
Father Andre Provencal. The priest encouraged the young man to pursue his desire to enter into religious life.
When Blessed Andre entered the novitiate, Provencal sent a letter to the novice master saying, "I am sending a saint to your congregation."
At 25, Blessed Andre could not read and his health was so fragile the Holy Cross
brothers assigned him to be the doorman at Montreal's College of Notre Dame, where the congregation had just opened its novitiate.
The Holy Cross brothers had initially turned the less than five-foot-tall Blessed Andre away from seeking a religious vocation because of his delicate health.
In reference to his assignment as doorman, he once quipped, "When I joined this community, the superiors showed me the door."
He made his final vows in 1874 when he was 28 years old.
For nearly the next 40 years, Blessed Andre contented himself with his humble tasks of welcoming visitors, cleaning the premises and running errands. He put himself at the service of everyone including the students, whom he would tend to when they were ill.
Many visitors would come to the college and ask Blessed Andre to pray for their loved ones who were ill, and many claimed they had been healed.
Soon he attracted large numbers of people seeking help and he would give them a medal of St. Joseph, bring oil from a lamp burning before a statue of St. Joseph in the college chapel, anoint the ill and pray with them. News of his power to heal spread as people began to recover.
In response to the many healings and conversions, Blessed Andre would always insist it was the work of St. Joseph, not himself.
Blessed Andre's special affection for St. Joseph inspired him to build a church in his honour.
Using the small sums he received cutting students' hair, as well as donations, the brother was able to build a modest structure in 1904, which he continued to expand as more funding became available.
Blessed Andre was named the oratory's custodian in 1909 as hundreds and then thousands of pilgrims made their way to Mount Royal to meet Blessed Andre and pray to St. Joseph.
The huge numbers of pilgrims flocking to the site compelled the archdiocese to turn the sanctuary into a minor basilica, which was completed in 1966 - almost 30 years after Blessed Andre's death.
Today the Oratory is the world's largest pilgrimage site devoted to St. Joseph, attracting some two million visitors a year.
Blessed Andre died on Jan. 6, 1937, at the age of 91. Between his death and burial, more than one million people came to pay tribute to him. In May 1982, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
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In Canada this would have been proclaimed on Sunday; today, the traditional date of the Epiphany, it was proclaimed in the Vatican Basilica and elsewhere:
Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany 2010
Dear brothers and sisters,
the glory of the Lord has shone upon us,
and shall ever be manifest among us,
until the day of his return.
Through the rhythms of times and seasons
let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.
Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord:
his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising,
celebrated between the evening of the first of April
and the evening of the fourth of April.
Each Easter—as on each Sunday—
the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed
by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent,
will occur on the seventeenth of February.
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated
on the sixteenth [or thirteenth] of May.
Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter,
will be celebrated on the twenty-third of May.
And this year the First Sunday of Advent
will be on the twenty-eighth of November.
Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the Passover of Christ
in the feasts of the holy Mother of God,
in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints,
and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come,
Lord of time and history,
be endless praise, for ever and ever. Amen.