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A short biography of Br. André

Alfred Bessette was born Aug. 9, 1845, into a family of 13 children in Saint-Grégoire d'Iberville, located on the south shore of Montreal. Poor and unschooled, like many other children of his era, he was orphaned at the age of 12.

He attracted great attention, however, due to his privations and the long periods of time he spent in prayer. His mother had inculcated in him a strong devotion and a boundless trust in St. Joseph.

He learned some manual trades early in life but his diminutive size, fragile health and lack of physical strength got in the way of his productivity.

In 1868, Alfred found his calling and confided in Fr. André Provençal, the pastor of Saint-Césaire Parish in the Diocese of Saint - Hyacinthe, who helped him to enter the Congregation of Holy Cross. He became the doorkeeper at Collège Notre- Dame in Montreal in 1870.

Due to his poor health and education, the religious superiors hesitated to accept him in the congregation. But the new novice master intervened, saying: "If this young man becomes incapable of working, he will know at least how to pray well."

Alfred Bessette took his perpetual vows Feb. 2, 1874; he was 28. He took the name Br. André in honor of his parish priest. He was named the doorkeeper, a function that he held until 1909. In addition, he took care of the sweeping and the lamps, he ran errands and visited the sick. He was "a man of all trades," he would say humbly.

Eventually, the sick who came to see him began to entrust their ills to the prayers of Brother André. Others invited him to their home. He prayed with them, gave them a medal of St. Joseph and suggested that they rub themselves with drops of olive oil that had burned before the statue of the saint in the school chapel. For many hours each day, he listened briefly to the sorrows of each person, who would then leave with renewed faith and trust. Curiously, numerous people would later declare themselves healed or comforted.

As the number of sick who came to visit Br. André at the school grew, so did fears that illness would spread. His religious superiors asked that he receive the sick across the street in the shelter set up for those waiting for the streetcar. He also began to bring his visitors before a statue of St. Joseph, which he had placed in a niche on Mount Royal.

At this point, he began to envision the construction of an oratory in honor of St. Joseph. He received the authorization to begin the construction on the condition that he would find the funds. The first sanctuary dedicated to St. Joseph was inaugurated on Oct. 16, 1904. It grew in four stages due to the thousands of pilgrims who would visit from year to year.

Br. André's reputation for holiness began to spread throughout the world. He responded by insisting that people experienced healing from God, through the intercession of St. Joseph.

He died Jan. 6, 1937; he was 91. For one week, about one million people braved the cold weather to file past his coffin and to pay their respects. The cause for his canonization began in 1941, he will finally be canonized in Rome on Oct. 17, 2010.

Rolande Parrot 

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