Brother Andre or Blessed Brother Andre, (French:Frere Andre, born Alfred Bessette) (9 August 1845 – January 6, 1937) was a Holy Cross Brother and a significant Quebecois religious figure, credited with thousands of reported miraculous healings.
Brother Bessette, CSC was born in Saint-Gregoire d'Iberville, Quebec (then Canada East), a small town situated 40 kilometers east of Montreal. His was a working class family — his father, Isaac Bessette, was a carpenter and lumberman and his mother, Clothilde Foisy Bessette, saw to the education of her ten children (two others died in infancy). When Alfred was nine years old, Isaac was killed in a lumbering accident. Clothilde died of tuberculosis just a few years later, and Alfred was orphaned at age twelve. He was sent to live with his mother's sister, Rosalie Nadeau and her husband Timothee, who attempted to establish Alfred in various trades, but the boy's fragile health (which would afflict him throughout his life) made sustained manual labor difficult.
From his earliest days, Alfred exhibited an unusually intense spirituality. He would often spend his scant free time praying before a crucifix or evangelizing his friends, and his many self-imposed penances drew the admiring rebuke of his gentle aunt, who was concerned that the boy was endangering his already poor health.
When Alfred was twenty years old, he joined many Canadians who were emigrating to the United States to work in the mills of New England. When, in 1867, the new Canadian Confederation was formed, he returned to his native country.
He was given the task of doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Côte-des-Neiges, Quebec. He fulfilled this function for some 40 years while at the same time doing innumerable odd jobs for the community.
Call to devotion
The Pastor of his parish, Fr. Andre Provencal, noticed the devotion and generosity of the young man. He decided to present Alfred to the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal, writing a note to the superior, "I'm sending you a saint." Although initially rejected by the order because of his frail health, Archbishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal intervened on his behalf, and in 1872, Alfred was accepted, made his temporary vows, and became known as Brother Andre. He made his final vows on 2 February 1874, at the age of twenty-eight.
Brother Andre's great confidence in Saint Joseph inspired him to recommend this saint's devotion to all those who were afflicted in various ways. Many claimed that they were cured through the prayers of Brother Andre and St. Joseph, and they were grateful that their prayers had been heard. Brother Andre steadfastly refused to take any credit for these cures, and although usually a gentle man, he was known to become enraged at those who suggested that he possessed any healing powers. Because he wanted Saint Joseph to be honoured, in 1904, Brother Andre began the construction of a small chapel on the side of Mount Royal, facing the College.
The reputation of Brother Andre grew and soon he was known as the miracle-worker of Mount Royal. He had to face the attacks and the criticism of numerous adversaries. He had the strong support, however, of the diocesan Church, and thousands of cures without apparent medical explanation made him the object of popular acclaim.
In 1924 construction of Saint Joseph's Oratory began on the side of the mountain, near Brother Andre's chapel. The funding for what would become the largest church outside of Rome came from Brother Andre's supporters from around the world.
Death and beatification
When Brother Andre died, a million people filed before his coffin. His heart is preserved in a monstrance in the oratory. It was stolen in March 1973, but recovered in December 1974. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 23, 1982.
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