An Unusual Friendship
Pilgrims from all walks of life are welcome at Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount-Royal, from the very beginning of the work. Saint Brother André was known to welcome without distinction all visitors, from the humblest to the most fortunate. According to his first biographer, Colonel Georges Ham, there were days when you met more Protestants than Catholics on the mountainside.
Of course, many Church dignitaries came to celebrate Mass after the opening of the Crypt Church in December 1917. Many well-known bishops, reverend fathers and priests preached there during Saint Brother André’s lifetime. But there is one in particular that stands out by the reputation that preceded him: Mgr. Michael Francis Fallon (1867-1931).
Saint Brother André and Mgr Fallon, fifth bishop of the diocese of London, Ontario, were opposites in almost every way. An imposing physique, PhD in theology in Rome, a professor at the University of Ottawa, remarkably eloquent, with a sincere but militant character, his nickname was “The Mitred Warrior”1. In particular, he had become known in Quebec as “the greatest enemy of French Canadians” by opposing bilingual schools and Franco-Ontarians demands for French-language education in the province2.
We note that Mgr Fallon’s first visit to the Oratory, in June 1921, was practically incognito. After visiting the crypt and the sanctuary, Mgr Fallon requests a meeting with Brother André, as a special favour. “Is everything they say about you true?,” he asks him. “I do not know all that is said, Monseigneur, but one could say a lot of evil about me that would be true.” “Is it really true that Saint Joseph grants you everything you ask him? While the rest of us pray without receiving anything?” And Brother André answered “Oh! Monseigneur, I do not believe this, because we are all equal before Saint Joseph. He never makes any exceptions.” According to some witnesses, this remark was Brother André’s way of interceding with Bishop Fallon in favour of the Francophones in his province 3.
Thus began the unusual friendship between these two servants of the Church.
In August 1925, Mgr Fallon presided over the ceremony for the 80th birthday of the doorkeeper of the Oratory. Not only did he celebrate Brother André, but also the sacerdotal golden jubilees of the rector, Father Alfred Roy, CSC. and of Father Adolphe Clément, CSC. The Bishop returned once again in April 1927, this time with American pilgrims from Jersey City. This Irish Canadian’s charisma had such an effect on the pilgrims that they gave $1,300 during the collection, “not to mention the amounts mailed in by persons unable to travel”4.
Mgr Fallon remains a larger-than-life character and an interesting figure in the history of the Catholic Church of Canada. Parts of the archives of this unlikely friend of Saint Brother André are also featured on the site of the diocese of London which we invite you to visit. Among others, you will find Mgr Fallon’s notebook from First World War, at which time he was responsible for the clergy on the battlefields in Europe. This valuable document is available at: https://dol.ca/wwi-virtual-exhibit