St. André Bessette: Opening Doors for God

St. André of Montreal

Today is the Feast of St. André of Montreal, who is known more widely as Bro. André Bessette, C.S.C. St. André was a brother in the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the same religious order that runs the University of Notre Dame. As we approach the end of the Christmas season, I thought I would write a few reflections on this great Saint. First, a little biographical information. André Bessette was born Alfred Bessette in Quebec Canada in 1845, not far from Montreal. His father was a carpenter, like Jesus and Jesus’ father St. Joseph. He had 12 brothers and sisters. When he was nine, his father died in an accident, and he had already lost three siblings who died as infants (a fourth would also die as an infant). Bessette was twelve when his mother died of tuberculosis. These tragic and severe sufferings early in life are alluded to in Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at Bessette’s canonization in 2010.

Bessette joined the religious Congregation of the Holy Cross as a brother when he about

Bro. André Bessette, C.S.C.

27, despite initially being rejected by the Congregation. Bro. André was assigned the humble duty of porter, the one who opens the door, and he had similarly humble duties, like doing the laundry for his brothers in the Congregation. His fame for miracles, which he attributed to St. Joseph’s intercession, spread rapidly, especially after an incident when disease spread to the level of a widespread epidemic. Bro. André volunteered to care for the sick. Miraculously, not a single individual died.

This morning my wife and I attended Mass at our local parish, and our pastor Fr. Jim Spera, who is a model priest, delivered a very moving homily on St. André. I don’t remember his exact words, but here’s the gist:

St. André with a child

Fr. Jim related a conversation he had had in the past with a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross (I think it was the Superior). In this conversation, the C.S.C. priest explained how St. André, the first canonized member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, was not canonized because of public extraordinary acts, despite the numerous miraculous healings attributed to his prayers (which he in turn explained were the work of St. Joseph) while he was still alive on this earth. Nor was he canonized because he was a missionary, although many members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross serve as missionaries. Nor was he canonized because he was an erudite scholar, although there are scholars among the members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Rather, the C.S.C. priest explained to Fr. Jim, Bro. André was canonized because of his hospitality. He was canonized because he did the little ordinary things of everyday life with extraordinary love. In this there is a lesson for us all. We too can become saints by putting great love into the little things of our own everyday lives.

In the homily at the papal Mass for the canonization of St. André, on October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict had the following to say:

“As porter of the College of Notre Dame in Montreal, he demonstrated boundless charity and strove to relieve the distress of those who came to confide in him.” St. André was “Wholly inhabited by the mystery of Jesus.”1

St. André

Earlier today, my dear friend and colleague Dr. Gregory Glazov responded to a written comment I made about St. André in which Dr. Glazov reminded me of the centrality of St. André’s devotion to St. Joseph, a devotion shared by Catholics, and particularly by members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, but lived in an exemplary fashion by St. André. St. André’s devotion to St. Joseph led to innumerable miraculous healings. Dr. Glazov commented:

“the Basilica of St. André displays in the vestibule and other places, hundreds if not thousands of crutches which he took from people he cured as a trophy and witness to the intercession of St. Joseph. And these are only crutches.”

Indeed, after his life on earth, the shrine to St. Joseph—the largest in the world—was completed. This basilica and shrine is none other than the beautiful St. Joseph’s Oratory, depicted here.

St. Joseph's Oratory

 

I thought I’d share four practical points to take away from the life and witness of St. André, although one could easily add many more.

1) The importance of putting love in doing the little ordinary things

Bro. André holding open the door

of everyday life. St. André was known for his hospitality, not only as the porter, the door-opener, but also for his quiet charity, for his attentive listening with compassion to those who came to him.

 

2) The importance of devotion to St. Joseph. St. André stands out especially for his devotion to St. Joseph. Indeed, the shrine in Montreal, as we have already mentioned, is dedicated to St. Joseph. St. André, as Dr. Glazov reminded me, attributed the multitude of miraculous healings in which he directly participated, to the powerful intercession of St. Joseph.

3) The importance of frequent confession. Frequenting the Sacrament of Confession was one of the common recommendations St. André gave to people who sought him out. He often encouraged frequent recourse to that special Sacrament—one of only three Sacraments that may be repeated with some frequency (Eucharist, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick when necessary), and one of two Sacraments (Eucharist and Confession) that could be repeated with frequency during his day.

4) The importance of approaching God in prayer with confidence. St. André tirelessly encouraged people to go to God in prayer with great confidence. After all, God is our loving Father.

There are many more lessons we could learn from St. André, including the discovery of our particular vocation, but these are four that really stand out to me.

For a great brief 6 ½ minute video about St. André, see the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMCj5gFgX9Q

 

  1. Pope Benedict XVI, Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Sunday, 17 October 2010: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20101017_canonizations_en.html []
Jeffrey L. Morrow

About Jeffrey L. Morrow

Jeff Morrow is Associate Professor of Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He also serves as a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Jeff earned his Ph.D. (2007) in Theology at the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, in the program on the U.S. Catholic Experience, where he focused on historical theology and the history of biblical exegesis. He earned his M.A. (2003) in Theological Studies, with a focus on Biblical Studies, also at the University of Dayton. He earned his B.A. (2001) at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he double majored in Comparative Religion and Classical Greek, and minored in Jewish Studies. Jeff originally comes from a Jewish background; he attended Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah. In 1997 he became an evangelical Protestant and was heavily involved with para-church ministry as an undergraduate student. He entered the Catholic Church, Easter Vigil 1999. Jeff is a popular speaker who speaks regularly at parishes and schools, as well as at larger events. He has made popular presentations at the Applied Biblical Studies and the Defending the Faith Conferences at Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as with the Coming Home Network International. He has also published in popular periodicals including This Rock, The Catholic Answer and New Oxford Review. Jeff's scholarly work is primarily in the history of biblical interpretation, but he has also presented academic papers, and published scholarly articles, on a variety of topics related to theology, religion and the Bible. He has published scholarly works in academic journals including New Blackfriars, Pro Ecclesia, Toronto Journal of Theology, and the Evangelical Review of Theology. He has also made scholarly presentations before a number of learned societies, including the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature and the College Theology Society. He currently resides with his wife Maria (a doctoral candidate in Theology, specializing in Moral Theology) their four children Maia, Eva, Patrick, and Robert, in New Jersey.
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