The Church of Rome canonized 6 new saints today. Of note is the first Australian saint. Also, from a much more personal place, is a Montrealer who has touched the lives of many here. Born Alfred Bessette, we all know him humbly as Brother André.

He is the second Canadian  after Marguerite D’Youville to be exalted to sainthood. This humble, humble man held an undying devotion to Saint-Joseph, the one he called ‘the forgotten member of the Holy Family’. In 1904, he begins the construction of a small wooden chapel devoted to Saint-Joseph. The affluence to this site is so great, that the little chapel cannot contain the number of devotees. Plans are made for the construction of a basilica which was finished in 1967, 30 years after the death of Brother André.

I have many memories in St-Joseph’s Oratory, as we call it, and some may recall my mentioning it in the book. One day, when I was in 7th grade, my religion teacher casually announced that I was selected among others to go on a tour of the Oratory. I don’t know how I got selected, but that trip changed my life. I walked through those halls and felt a consuming peace. I looked at the statues and they looked so beautiful. We walked the gardens where the stations of the cross were set as great big statues. The most amazing part of the sanctuary was the hall of candles. Hundreds of candles burned, petitioning St-Joseph in his various functions: protector of families, patron of workers, protector from demons, solace of the sick… Above, hundreds of crutches testifying to the miracles attributed to St-Joseph and to Brother André. My skin was ablaze with this fire and with the knowledge that there was greatness here. The greatness of faith and surrender to something greater than ourselves. A few years later, when I started college, I would visit the Oratory whenever I had some time off and was in need of a quiet sacred place.

Another story that was told to me was that one day, my grandfather had prayed to Brother André because he had no food to feed his eleven children. That day, he found five dollars in a pair of pants that had been given to him through good will. It was enough to keep the family afloat. So, Brother André has been a presence in my life for a very long time. He gave me a place to bring my sorrows and my hopes. He gave me a protector in St-Joseph and he gave my family proof of the power of simple faith.

Saint Brother André, ora pro nobis

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