By Ian Wilson (Rated G)
The life of St. Andre Bessette was marked by much pain and suffering, but the suffering he endured bore much fruit. Andre was born Alfred Bessette to a poor farming family in the small farming village of St. Gregoire in Quebec, Canada, about thirty miles from the US border. While they were a poor family, they were rich in faith, and showed young Alfred many of the spiritual disciplines that would help him later in life.
Sickness and tragedy seemed to mark Alfred’s whole life. He was born physically frail, to the point that his parents feared he would not survive infancy. This physical weakness followed him all his life, but served only strengthen his faith. At the age of six, Alfred lost his father to a logging accident. Four years later, his mother contracted tuberculosis and had to give up all twelve of her children, including Alfred, for adoption. Not long afterward, she joined her husband in the grave. At only twelve, Alfred was an orphan.
Throughout his youth, Alfred was beset by difficulty. He was adopted by a farming family, but the work proved too strenuous for his frail strength. He was then employed as a shoemaker, but he proved too clumsy. This happened over and over again; try as he might, Alfred could not hold a job. But his faith did not waver. Even as a young boy, Alfred spent many hours in the church praying or talking with the priests.
After moving from job to job in Canada and New England, Alfred asked his patron St. Joseph where he might die. Joseph gave him a vision of a particular building: College of Notre Dame de Montreal. Alfred then returned to Canada to receive council from his spiritual director, Fr. Andre Provinçal, who recommended he pursue a religious life at the college.
Through trials, rigors and the initial skepticism of the brethren, Alfred persevered, joining the religious order known as the Congregation of the Holy Cross. As a novice, he learned to read (a skill he had not learned as a child) and memorized many portions of Scripture and of the writings of the saints. He received Holy Orders on August 22, 1872, taking the name Brother Andre.
Andre was then assigned to serve as a porter at the College of Notre Dame, which he served admirably, despite ill-treatment by his superior. Once again, he persevered without the slightest complaint as he always had before.
It was during this time that Andre earned a reputation as a miracle-worker. As door-keeper, Andre saw everyone who entered or left the college, and talked with all the students. Many complained of various frailties and sicknesses. Andre prayed, and by his intercession they were then cured of those illnesses. People from all over Quebec came to Andre to receive prayer and healing. Brother Andre, however, never claimed to do anything. It was God who did that miracle; he was only a door-keeper. In this work, he came in contact with people from all walks of life – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, atheists and more – but he treated all with the same kindness and charity.
Brother Andre then undertook what would be the crowning achievement of his life; erecting the oratory of St. Joseph on Mount Royal. Through many trials and challenges, the oratory was eventually completed in 1904; however, additions and renovations continued until 1966.
By the age of 91, Andre Bessette had spent many years in service to his Lord, and had the sense that his time was complete. In December of 1936, he developed acute gastritis. He spent his final days in the hospital in prayer for everyone he had ever met, refusing all pain medications to ease his suffering.
May we all be as willing to serve and to suffer in whatever vocation we find ourselves in as Andre Bessette.