Friday, February 4, 2011

Brother Andre of the Oratory, His Life and Sanctity

About twenty years ago when visiting Montreal I had the chance to visit the St. Joseph Oratory on Mount Royal. It is located in a lovely location overlooking the city. It was early summer and people were walking about and the flowers were blooming. I had no idea of what an Oratory was or even why the parking lot was overflowing with visitors. I later learned that the Oratory was a place of pilgrimage for Catholic Christians. Why you may wonder? The Oratory was where Brother Andre Bessette lived and ministered. While he died in 1937 his life and legacy still live on and now the Vatican has confirmed Brother Andre's sanctity. In other words, Catholics honor him as a saint.

It was overwhelming going into the chapel at the Oratory. Hundreds of cards, rosaries, crucifixes, and notes were pinned to the wall. There were crutches and wheelchairs from pilgrims who were miraculously cured from their diseases. Thousands of red votive candles were burning around the clock. While at first look these things may seem a bit out of the ordinary, over the top really. Yet many people said that they were cured after asking for Brother Andre's intercessions.

In his new English language book simply titled Brother Andre (Ave Maria Press, 2010), Jean Guy Dubuc provides his readers with the life and legacy of Brother Andre. While this is not the forum for a more lengthy review, needless to say Brother Andre was quite an extraordinary person. He was born and raised in Eastern Canada in what is the Eastern Townships and eventually made his way to Montreal. He became a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and for most of his life was the Porter or doorkeeper at the Oratory. He also assisted newcomers and visitors, helped with cleaning, and was a good listener. Brother Andre soon became a popular figure at the Oratory with people coming to him with physical and spiritual ailments. Unlike some saints, Brother Andre was very popular during his lifetime. Upon his death in 1937 hundreds of thousands of people attended his funeral in Montreal and his body is now in a crypt in the Church at the Oratory.

I remember visiting the Oratory and while I didn't know much about Brother Andre, I felt a deep sense of holiness there. Every year millions of pilgrims flock to this special place in Montreal in order to walk where a saint once walked. They come every year, young, old, healthy and sick alike to pay homage to a man of God. They pray. They light a candle. They ask for help.