On January 7th, we, here in Canada, celebrated the feast day of our patron saint, St. Andre Bessette, or as he is also known, Brother Andre of Montreal. Our neighbours to the south, the Americans, celebrate St. Andre’s feast day on January 6th. Why the discrepancy one might ask? The reason is that the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord is celebrated on January 6th, and the Epiphany of the Lord being a universal feast day of the Church, supersedes any feast days (greater, or universally celebrated feast day in the Church’s calendar, in the hierarchy of feast days always trump the local Canadian feast days). As a result, the feast day of St. Andre Bessette is moved to the following day with the approval of the Holy See.
Because Canadian winters can be quite cold and harsh and are not ideal for pilgrims to make their pilgrimages to St. Joseph’s Oratory (the Church St. Andre built) the Canadian Bishops have petitioned the Holy See to have St. Andre’s feast day moved to a time when there are more favourable weather conditions to allow for pilgrimages. Let us hope for a favourable response sometime soon!
A bit about our patron saint: St. Andre was born as Alfred Bessette in Mont-Saint-Grégoire, Quebec, in a small town near Montreal, as the eighth of twelve children, on August 9th, 1845. Since his birth, Brother Andre was always frail. When Alfred was nine years old his father tragically died in an accident, and three years later, his mother dying from tuberculosis, left him an orphan at the age of twelve.
Alfred made many attempts to find a stable job but each time he was either turned away or let go because he was small in stature, weak, and frail. When Alfred was working for his pastor, Fr. Andre Provencal, he recognized Alfred’s faith and vocation and sent him to the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Montreal with a letter to the superior of the Congregation stating, “I am sending you a saint.” Even with this extraordinary letter, Alfred was rejected because of his frail health. That is when the Archbishop of Montreal intervened. And as a result Alfred was accepted and became Brother Andre. Br. Andre was entrusted with the task of being porter at Notre Dame College, as well as sacristan, laundry worker, and messenger. For 40 years he remained faithful in his simple duties.
Br. Andre had a great confidence and devotion to St. Joseph, and many of his prayers were answered and many more received miraculous healings. Br. Andre was visited and befriended by so many pilgrims during his life time that when he died at the age of 91 in 1937, a million people came to mourn. St. Joseph’s Oratory, the Church he envisioned and completed 30 years after his passing, receives approximately 2 million visitors annually.
May St. Andre intercede from heaven for us so that we too may grow in confidence of St. Joseph and so that we will reach our dream of having our beautiful church building in Maple soon.