God wanted a Shrine to Saint Joseph to be erected in Montreal. God could have called upon the Mayor of Montreal, Charles Duquette, with the vast resources of the city of Montreal at his disposal or Archbishop Bourget of Montreal with the support of its predominant Catholic population. Instead, God choose Brother André Bessette, a sickly religious of Holy Cross who was serving as the doorkeeper for Holy Cross School in Montreal. He was a humble man without formal education with fragile health.
Br. André was born Alfred Bessette in 1845. When he was 10, his father, Issac, died in an accident when he was cutting trees in the forest. Two years later his mother, Clotilde, died of tuberculosis. He was received by his aunt, Marie Rosalía, and her husband.
When he was 18 he went to the United States looking for work in the cotton industry, making cloth in the New England states. It was exceedingly difficult work, 10 hours a day and 6 days a week. After 4 years he returned to Saint Ceáire in Greater Montreal.
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In Ceáire he met Fr. Porvencal, a dynamo of activities inside and outside his parish. Alfred helped in the parish to make a little spending money. Fr. Provencal suggested that Alfred enter the Congregation of Holy Cross. At first, he was not accepted because he had no formal education and was too frail to serve the Congregation well. With the help and pressure of Archbishop Bourget of Montreal and Fr. Provencal he was later accepted. He then received his habit and the name André. After his novitiate he was assigned as a porter for the College. Little by Little the reputation of his intercessions and healings was spread far and wide.
While he was the doorman, Br. André cut students' hair and kept the money. When he had $ 200.00, he asked permission to build a chapel on the land in front of the College. At first, as always, the superiors did not accept his request, but later they said yes. From this 4 x 4-meter hut began the road to the Oratory of today.
God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to show us the path to his Kingdom at a point in history. Now God depends on human beings to carry out His will on earth. As the violin artisan, Antonio Stradivari, once said, God could not make Stradivari violins without Antonio.
Could we not say the same for Br. André? The Oratory of Saint Joseph in Montreal would not be today without the faith, prayers, and work of Br. André Bessette.
In 1937, Br. André, 91 years old, died. This same year the unfinished work on the Oratory was reopened and it was finished 30 years later, in 1967. In 1982 Br. André was beatified by Pope John Paul II and in 2010 he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI.
I would suggest that today God has things to be done on earth but to realize them God needs the thinking and working and above all the praying of someone on earth to bring to fruition His wish.
This reflection for the Feast Day celebration of St. André Bessette, the first canonized saint in Holy Cross, was written by Br. Matthew Lyons, C.S.C. A member of the Moreau Province, Br. Lyons has worked for the past several decades in Chile, serving in a variety of ministries in the Congregation's orphanages, schools, and formation programs in the country. He recently celebrated his 90th birthday and continues to help in a variety of different ways in the community and its apostolates, including the Holy Cross House of Formation in Santiago.