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Today (January 6th) is usually the feast day of St. André Bessette, but since it falls on a Sunday this year, Brother André has been bumped this year!  But since he’s such an important figure in the Congregation of Holy Cross – the only canonized saint so far from our community – I thought I’d devote today’s bulletin column to him so that we still remember him on his feast day.

Brother André is a pretty amazing figure.  In many ways, he’s the last person you would ever think would become a saint, because in the eyes of the world there was absolutely nothing special about him.  Brother André was born in Quebec to a humble, working-class family.  His father was killed in a lumberjacking accident when Alfred (his birth name) was quite young, and his mother passed away a few years later.  Alfred went to live with an aunt and uncle.

He was a holy young man, but he struggled to make a living.  Between his lack of education (he was largely illiterate) and his physical frailty (he was baptized immediately upon birth because his family wasn’t sure he was going to survive, and he remained in fragile health for all of his 91 years), he bounced from job to job in factories and farms in Canada and New England.  When he finally asked to be admitted to the Brothers of Holy Cross in Montreal (his pastor sent them a note saying, “I am sending you a saint”), it presented a real conundrum to our community because he couldn’t do anything that our brothers did.  He wasn’t strong enough to perform manual labor, and he wasn’t educated enough to teach.  We came really close to turning him away.  (What a disaster that would have been!)  Instead, though, we eventually made him the doorkeeper at a boys’ school in Montreal.

Over the next several decades, Brother André began to attract worldwide attention, primarily for two things.  First of all, many miraculous healings were attributed to his prayers.  In his role as doorkeeper, he frequently paid with the sick, and eventually people noticed that many people for whom Brother André  prayed were miraculously healed.  It wasn’t long before huge crowds of people lined up every day just to spend a few moments with him in the hopes that they would be cured, as well.  Brother André spent most of his day each day visiting with sick people, one after the other.  He did this for decades, and tens of thousands of miraculous healings are attributed to his intercession.

The second thing for which Brother André is widely known is the Oratory of St. Joseph.  Because of the strong devotion to St. Joseph that Brother André had his entire life, he always dreamed of putting a shrine to St. Joseph on the hill across the street from the school where he worked. The first shrine was a simple structure.  However, with the vast crowds that were coming to see Brother André every day, it wasn’t long before this turned into a major pilgrimage destination.  Today over a million visitors visit the Oratory each year.

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since two busloads of Christ the King parishioners made our pilgrimage to Montreal to visit the Oratory of St. Joseph.  When you look at the magnificent Oratory in the Montreal skyline, it’s amazing to think it started off with a crazy idea in Brother André ’s head that no one initially paid any attention to.  And when you see the thousands of crutches – discarded by pilgrims who didn’t need them any more after visiting the Oratory – it’s incredible to think that this was accomplished by the faith of a simple man who couldn’t even read.  That’s what I love most about St. André Bessette.  He’s a reminder that God doesn’t only use the “best and the brightest”, as defined by the world.  He can use any one of us.  We just have to let Him do it, just like Brother André did.