I have been employed at Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal for a little over five years. I was not at the Oratory at the time of Brother André’s canonization. I wasn’t even in Montreal. Although I remember where I was and what I was doing in October 2010, to tell the truth, I knew very little about the man Pope Benedict XVI had just canonized.
It’s been ten years already. Not by accident was Brother André canonized on October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. His whole life was dedicated to relieving the sufferings of others, giving them hope and telling them they were beloved by God.
“I have always left the Oratory in God’s hands… he will do with it what he will.” The 10th anniversary of Brother André’s canonization reminds us that these words pronounced by this humble brother with the heart of an apostle are still full of relevance and promise.
Each year, several thousand schoolchildren come to visit the Oratory. They are always impressed by the character of Saint Brother André and by the immense house of prayer that he erected with his friends in honor of Saint Joseph.
Several years ago a diocesan priest from the South Shore gave this touching testimony on his website: “If I am free on a Sunday, I like to participate in one of the Sunday Masses at Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. The liturgy is simple. The singing is beautiful. And above all, the gathering of the faithful speaks volumes. The testimony of people’s faith, modest but real, stimulates my faith and my hope… People of all nations, of all colors, of all ages, of all states of health and probably of diverse religions, come to pray to God during the Eucharist, and to Saint Joseph in the huge hall with votive lamps and to Brother André at his tomb. It is truly the universal Church that is present here and it is, visibly, the salvation wrought by Jesus for all that is manifested here.”
It’s party time at the Oratory! It’s already been 10 years since Brother André was canonized. What cherished memories and what an awareness of the extraordinary heritage that Saint Brother André left us when reading the many testimonies even now received from all over. Brother André is still alive and close. All his friends are celebrating.
In this exceptional time of pandemic out of respect for Natural and Home Caregivers and so as not to risk weakening the vulnerable people they care for, there will be no testimonies at the Natural Helpers Day celebrations that will take place this Sunday, August 16 at Saint Joseph’s Oratory on the occasion of the month of Saint Brother André.
In 1922, George Ham, a journalist from Maclean’s magazine, came to the Oratory to write a story about Brother André. A Protestant, this is how he described the activities of Brother André:
“Brother André prayed with the afflicted and often mingled his tears with those of the distressed. Brother André’s only desire was to serve God, to practice devotion to good Saint Joseph and to spend his life in easing the sufferings of his neighbor.” This journalist eventually became a good friend of Brother André and one of his first biographers. He recounted that Brother André was appreciated by a number of the faithful, “both Catholic and those belonging to other religious beliefs.”
The year 2020 is a busy one for anniversaries at the Oratory. It marks the 100th novena to Saint Joseph, the 80th anniversary of the first novena to Brother André, the 175th anniversary of Brother André’s birth and the 10th anniversary of his canonization.
When Brother André entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870, the community had already been established in Montréal for 23 years. Its founder, Father Basil Moreau, CSC, had a great devotion to Saint Joseph. Frequently, he urged his spiritual sons and daughters to turn to Saint Joseph to honor him and to love him. He also suggested to them to spread the devotion to the people with whom they were working.
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.