One day in 1998, I received a letter from Alicia, a Friend of Brother Andre. Alicia lived in Aguascalientes, a village in Mexico. “From this village so far from Montréal, I give thanks from the bottom of my heart to our Lord for having heard my prayer through the intercession of Brother André and Saint Joseph.” “I bless the day that I was given to read the biography of Brother André. I found so much faith and trust in this ‘SAINT’ (Tuve mucha fe y confianza en este ‘SANTO’) and also in Saint Joseph. With them, a favor is quickly obtained.”
Brother André had, like many people still today, his share of misery and misfortune. Orphaned by father and mother at the age of 12, sickly and uneducated, he had to work hard to earn his living and make his way. But he wasn’t destitute for all that.
On hearing the word “witness,” what first comes to mind is the idea of someone in a judicial context… “I call the next witness.” A moment of sober responsibility. It will be through this person that the light of truth will have a better chance of being accurately discovered, revealed.
Abbé Pierre said, “The greatest evil that can happen to human beings, even to little ones, is to think only of themselves. The one and only rule which leads to goodness and to happiness is to look after the weakest.”
May Saint Brother André be a source of inspiration and hope for each one of us during this time when we are all under the influence of the coronavirus pandemic. Brother André reminds us that there are no dilemmas or hardships which cannot be surmounted or overcome. There is always a path of hope for those who have confidence.
What we are living through with the Coronavirus, reminds us of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Brother André and his contemporaries felt the weight of it heavy upon them. Today, many families are living in restlessness vulnerability, causing real upheaval in their lives.
With his friend, Saint Joseph helping, Brother André planted hope in hundreds and thousands of people who were seeking a way forward. He showed them realities that we often have a tendency to forget.
Over the years, the Counseling Office of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, a space of welcome, of listening, and of compassion, has without question become a valuable service offered to people who are wounded, not necessarily physically – as was the case in the time of Brother André (1904 to 1937) — but rather psychically, psychologically, emotionally, affectively, morally, and religiously.
Brother André left few objects behind. The few pieces preserved at the Oratory Museum remind us that Brother André was a simple man. His great devotion to Saint Joseph moved large crowds in the early 20th century. This immense faith left us a legacy: the internationally renowned sanctuary, Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.
Frequent reference has been made to the magnitude of the funeral that followed the death of Brother André, on January 6, 1937. For an entire week, hundreds of thousands of people came to pay their respects and attend the funeral in the burning chapel of the Oratory’s crypt. The crowd was so large that it could take up to four hours to reach the coffin. And you couldn’t linger for long in front of Brother André’s body. According to reports from that time, there were 110 visitors per minute! 1
It was on December 27, 1870, just a few weeks after arriving at Collège Notre-Dame, that young Alfred Bessette entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Holy Cross1. Dressed in the Brothers’ cassock with a double cincture around his waist, Alfred took his vows of commitment before the novice master, Father Julien Gastineau, CSC. It was during this ceremony that he took the name of Brother André.