The 10th Anniversary of the Canonization of St. André Bessette, the first canonized saint of the Congregation of Holy Cross, is just days away on October 17, 2020. As this great anniversary for not only Holy Cross, but also the universal Church approaches, several Holy Cross brothers took a moment to reflect on their saintly brother and his legacy, particularly with respect to their own vocations.
Br. Chester Freel, C.S.C., former Provincial Superior of the Midwest Province, was one of the Holy Cross religious in attendance at the canonization in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on October 17, 2010.
“The old adage ‘it was a once in a lifetime experience’ best describes my being at the canonization of Br. André. It was truly my honor and joy to be part of the representation from the Midwest Province attending the canonization,” Br. Freel recalled. “For us, Holy Cross Brothers in attendance, being members of the same religious community as Brother André, we were filled with pride knowing that ‘one of our own’ was receiving church-wide recognition of his holiness.”
While calling St. André a “role model to all Christians seeking holiness,” Br. Freel also said that it is precisely that quality of St. André being “one of their own” that makes him such an inspiration for Holy Cross religious in general, and particular for Holy Cross brothers.
“We in Holy Cross are challenged to emulate his acts of hospitality, to replicate his constant attention to prayer for those in need, and to follow his faithfulness to God in the vocation to which we have been called. For me personally just as was true 10-years ago, I continue to pray that St. André’s canonization remains a source of blessing, hope, and affirmation for all who follow in his footsteps as a Brother of Holy Cross,” he said.
Br. Joaquin Parada, C.S.C., of the District of Chile-Perú, was another one of the Holy Cross brothers in attendance at the canonization. In his case, he very well might not have been there if it had not been for the inspiration of Br. André on his vocation.
“The experience of attending the canonization of Brother André was very special for me, since when I got to know the Congregation, almost no one spoke of Brother André,” related Br. Parada. “However, when I was finishing my theology studies and with more than three years of temporary vows, I went for a few days of retreat to a house of the Congregation and one of my concerns was about a possible ordination.
“In that house, there was a room with many boxes of old books. I started to go through them and found an old biography of Brother André in Spanish,” continued Br. Parada. “I was very impressed by his life and I felt that he was a role model to follow. After that time of retreat, I began to think about the option of being a religious brother and not asking for ordination.”
Saint André not only inspired Br. Parada to become a Holy Cross brother, but he has also inspired how Br. Parada has carried out his ministry as a brother to this day, because from having studied Br. André’s life, “despite my taste for literature and being a Spanish teacher, I felt that the most important thing was to accompany the sick and the elderly. I taught for many years in public schools and in Holy Cross, but I tried to have time for this apostolate where I saw Brother Andrés as a role model.”
Although he was not at St. André’s canonization, Br. Nicholas Arthur, C.S.C., who hails from the District of West Africa and is the Fifth General Assistant of the Congregation, did have the opportunity to visit St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Quebec, which St. André built in honor of his favorite intercessor. It is through that visit to the Oratory that Br. Nicholas says that Br. André left a “lasting impression” on him.
“I saw for myself the hundreds of crutches left behind by those would no longer need them and the hundreds of ‘thank you’ candles that were burning. I also had the privilege to pray with so many seeking to be healed through the intercession of Brother André, and they prayed with me. His dedication to caring for the sick, the poor, and even serving as an undertaker for those with insufficient funds was certainly inspiring for me,” said Br. Arthur.
That experience has affected how Br. Arthur carries out his ministry as an educator at St. Brother André School in Ghana. “I am committing myself to forming a ‘family,’ a home where givers and receivers feel mutually respected and appreciated—where I will pray with my students both in the classroom and out in the field,” he said. “I am working together with my students during their challenging times and sharing with them the joy of encountering Christ, which Br. André believed caused him to see life in a new way. He often said, “When you encounter Christ you have to change.’ That has become my personal mission.”
Br. Nicholas Tolentino, C.S.C., of St. Joseph Province in Bangladesh, professed a similar inspiration of Br. André on him in his ministry as a religious brother and educator in the faith.
“For me, St. Brother André is always an inspiration in my vision and mission as a Holy Cross brother,” said Br. Toletino. “Brother André did not educate the students teaching in classes but he taught the students through his life. He was humble, faithful, and responsible in his ministry. His life was a message for the students. In my service, when I undergo stressful situations, I picture Saint Brother André in the situation and try to remain faithful, calm, and responsible both in my apostolic and pastoral service.
“His obedience, prayerfulness, and ascetic life encourage me to lead my life as a happy religious,” continued Br. Toletino. “Saint Brother André had an immense faith in God’s providence. In my mission, I surrender myself to God. There are times, when, without my realization, I trust more on myself than God. Saint Brother André reminds me to have faith in the will of God.”
“My vocation as a brother of Holy Cross has been strengthened by the life story of St. André Bessette,” echoed Br. Cesar Ramos de Souza, C.S.C., of the District of Brazil. “Little by little, I started to identify with his style of life in being everyone’s brother and to learn from his zeal in mission and from the sympathy, attention, and welcome extended to everyone who approaches you. Saint Brother André teaches us it is not only the great works that bring us closer to God, but also all the little things, done in simplicity and humility, with love and with joy, which are so important for God.”