Saint André Bessette, known for his profound faith and devotion to St. Joseph, overcame a life marked by frailty and adversity. Born as the eighth child in a French Canadian family near Montreal, André faced hardship early on, losing both parents by the age of 12 and being adopted soon after. His journey through various occupations, including shoemaking, baking, and blacksmithing, was riddled with failures. He even ventured to the United States for factory work during the Civil War era.

At 25, André sought to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross. His weak health initially barred him from acceptance, but with perseverance and the support of Bishop Bourget, he was finally admitted. His role was modest but essential — he served as a doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal, juggling additional responsibilities as a sacristan, laundry worker, and messenger.

André’s dedication to his faith was unwavering. He spent nights in prayer in his small room by the college entrance, always with a statue of St. Joseph, his childhood patron, gazing towards Mount Royal. He believed strongly in St. Joseph’s impending special honor on the hill.

Renowned for his compassion, André often visited the sick, bringing hope and prayers, and anointing them with oil from a chapel lamp. His reputation as a healer grew, especially after his successful care for the sick during an epidemic at a nearby college. Despite skepticism and criticism from various quarters, André remained humble, attributing all cures to St. Joseph.

His dream to honor St. Joseph on Mount Royal began to materialize when, after planting medals of St. Joseph on the hillside, land was miraculously acquired. With minimal funds, André built a small chapel, dedicating his time to listening to and praying for visitors, using St. Joseph’s oil. The chapel, adorned with abandoned crutches and braces, evolved into a magnificent oratory, completed over 50 years.

André’s humble beginnings and challenges didn’t hinder his profound impact. He passed away at 92, a far cry from the sickly boy who struggled to find his place. Buried at the Oratory he helped build, he was beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, who highlighted his embodiment of the beatitude of the pure of heart.

Photo credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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