Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Miracle Man of Montreal

Tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) is the feast of St. Andre Bessette. This once well-known saint seems to have fallen out of the general Catholic consciousness, but his life of simple holiness deserves to be remembered.

Andre was born in Quebec in 1845. Though he was slight and sickly his entire life, he lived to be 91. Andre's poor health hindered his attempts at making a life, whether finding work or pursuing the call to religious life that he felt. He applied to join the brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross several times but was turned down due to his poor health and limited education. Finally, his persistence paid off, as the archbishop intervened and famously concluded: "At least he can pray."

Andre was given the job of serving as porter of the community's college, opening the door and directing people to where they needed to go. And as he kindly spoke with the people he visited, he found that people shared their problems and sufferings with him. Andre's advice was always the same: "go to Joseph." Many came to him, and many were aided through his prayers--including even physical healings.

Word of Andre's actions quickly spread, and soon Andre was receiving tens of thousands of letters per year asking for his intercession. Andre would bring the oil that burned in the lamp by the statue of St. Joseph and anoint the sick with them, urging the sick to trust in St. Joseph's intercession. And people were healed: from blindness, burns, paralysis, and all kinds of disease. And their faith was enlivened and strengthened.

The attention Andre attracted concerned some of his confreres. They worried Andre was developing a cult of personality around him. The archbishop came to the local superior and asked, "If you asked Andre to stop these healings, would he?" The superior responded, "Yes, Andre is an obedient religious, he would stop if I asked." The archbishop said, "Then don't. That tells me it's not about him." Andre never took any credit for himself for what occurred; he always pointed to St. Joseph.

Andre's ministry led to the construction of a beautiful Oratory of St. Joseph, which still attracts many pilgrims today. At his death, one million people viewed his coffin. He was dubbed "the miracle man of Montreal," yet his fame has diminished somewhat over time.

We would do well to remember the lessons of St. Andre's life: persistence, humility, devotion to the saints, and humble submission to the will of God. He is a reminder that God calls all of us to be saints: the strong and the sickly, the well and poorly educated alike. All that is required is love of God and love of neighbor.

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