Born: Aug. 9th, 1845
Died: Jan 6th, 1937
FEast: Jan. 6th
the rejected, failures, small acts of determination
St. Andre Bessette
Born Alfred Bessette in a small town outside of Montreal, Quebec, he was the 8th of 12 children (4 of which did not survive infancy) and he himself had an emergency baptism the day after his birth because of his poor health. His mother was an educator and his father was a carpenter and lumberman. The family was impoverished, and moved once for work, and there his father was killed in an accident when Andre was 9. His mother died only 3 years later, Andre became a farmhand, then worked many other jobs to support himself, including factory work in the US during Civil War years. His childhood pastor encouraged him to join religious life, though, and at 25, he was sent to the Congregation of the Holy Cross with a note from this pastor that read, “I am sending you a saint”.
This note couldn’t even get him in the door, however. Andre had been battling illnesses and stomach pains his whole life, and the Congregation was wary of how many jobs he had been let go of and how little work he could do because of this. He also had very little education, and was looking to enter religious life more as a desperate last resort than with a belief in it being his true calling. With a recommendation from the bishop, however, Andre was able to stay, taking his name after the parish priest that had convinced him to join. He was transferred to Notre Dame college where he worked as barber, custodian, mailman, and then doorman - a position he held for 40 years.
One of the things Brother Andre did while in this position was pray with anyone who was ill, and direct them to a devotion to St. Joseph. Not one person died when there was an epidemic outbreak at a nearby college and Andre volunteered to nurse, and there were many reports of near-miraculous healings, both physical and spiritual. He refused to take the credit, thanking St. Joseph instead. Because of this, he desired to build a special chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, but because he had become controversial with a growing reputation, and was still misunderstood and distrusted by many Church and community members, he was not given any funding or help to do so. Nonetheless, he proceeded to start this work all on his own. He saved $200 from the $.05 haircuts he gave, and prayed for a mountain near the college to be put up for sale - and it finally was. He constructed a simple wood structure that opened in 1904, and he slowly added on to it - a roof, heat, etc., until by 1909, with more donations and lots of hard work, he was assigned to be full-time caretaker of this shrine he had built. He welcomed visitors there, many of whom were cured.
In the process of building a basilica on the mountain, the money had run out by 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression. Even then, he did not worry and instead said, “Put a statue of Saint Joseph in the middle. If he wants a roof over his head, he’ll get it.” And this, he did. Though it took 50 years to build and Andre, at 90, had to be carried up the mountain to see the statue in its place, he never gave up on his dream. He died at the age of 91, not long after, in 1937 with one million people attending his funeral. He was buried at the Oratory, and canonized in 2010.
We can often be wary of or antagonistic towards some of the virtues we are called to practice, such as obedience and humility. But your life, as simple as it was, caused such a stir that we are able to begin to understand how these virtues that you had are not in any way making us less, but rather inviting us to more. Help us be humble. AMen.
This image is Based loosely off of several images of Andre himself, blended with other references as well. The colors come from a cold Montreal winter palette, and the original images of the Oratory. he holds a statue of ST. Joseph and wears a doorman-style jacket. His expression is one of peace and content, but his eyes convey the determination and spirit he had.