Not any more

Brother André becomes Canada’s first 21st century saint

In Canada on October 17, 2010 at 08:27

Brother André, the humble cleric who founded Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory, became Canada’s first saint of the 21st century Sunday in a moving ceremony at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict presided over the canonization of Brother André, who was credited with miracle healings before his death in 1937.

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Benedict noted that Brother André was poorly educated but nevertheless understood what was essential to his faith.

“Doorman at the Notre Dame College in Montreal, he showed boundless charity and did everything possible to soothe the despair of those who confided in him,” Benedict said.

“I think all the people from Quebec are happy now,” said Alain Pilote, a 49-year-old pilgrim from Rougemont, near Montreal, who came to Rome for the mass.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon also attended the ceremony.

In Montreal, the faithful crowded around a big-screen television in the Oratory’s church to watch the ceremony broadcast live from St. Peter’s Square at 4 a.m. ET.

Other celebrations are also planned in Montreal, culminating in a celebratory mass at Olympic Stadium next weekend.

Even tour operators are rejoicing, with some already predicting that the declaration of sainthood will boost Quebec as a tourist destination for faith-based tourists.

Pamela Bright, a theological studies professor at Montreal’s Concordia University, said Brother André’s canonization reflects his deep faith and service as much as it does any of the miracles attributed to him.

“Here is a man who lived his life to a heroic degree of gospel values,” said Ms. Bright, who heard about Brother André when she was growing up as a child in Australia.

“He was a man who called a spade a spade,” she said. “But more than anything he was a man who was life-giving…. He was a man whose very presence called people to hope, to faith, and especially to wellness of being” through his prayers.

He’s still relevant, even in a society that’s not as overtly religious as it once was, she added.

“He’s not out of time.”

All the hoopla likely would have reddened the cheeks of Brother André, who was known for his humility and his faith, which has been described by Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte as strong enough “to move mountains.”

The drive for the canonization goes back to 1940, when it was started by the Archdiocese of Montreal and the Congregation of Holy Cross and St. Joseph’s Oratory.

A 4,000-page document was submitted to the Vatican in 1948 to petition for his sainthood.

He was declared “venerable” by Pope Paul VI in 1978, and beatified — declared “blessed” — by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Benedict announced his canonization in February after recognizing a second miracle attributed to Brother André.

Brother André was born Alfred Bessette on Aug. 9, 1845, in St-Gregoire-d’Iberville, and orphaned when he was 12 years old.

Before joining the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870, he worked in the textile mills of the northeastern United States.

Once he took his vows, he gave comfort to people who came to him at College Notre-Dame for solace, and many credited him with curing their illnesses.

He founded St. Joseph’s Oratory in 1904, although it was a modest chapel and far from the grand landmark that looms over Montreal today.

He was named the Oratory’s guardian in 1909.

Brother André died at age 91 on Jan. 6, 1937. During the six days and nights before his funeral, more than one million people filed past his coffin.

His heart still rests in a small shrine in the Oratory, where he was ultimately laid to rest.

The heart, which is on public view as an object of contemplation for pilgrims, is protected by security systems after it was stolen in 1973. Police recovered it almost two years later from the basement of a home near Montreal.

Brother André follows in the footsteps of Marguerite d’Youville, who was born in 1701 and was the first saint born on Canadian territory.

Canada’s other saints are Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was born in France in 1620 and is considered the co-founder of Montreal, and eight French-born Jesuit martyrs who were killed during wars in the 1640s.

Benedict gave Australia its first saint, canonizing 19th-century nun Mary MacKillop.

Also canonized Sunday were Stanislaus Soltys of Poland, Italians Giulia Salzano and Battista Camilla da Varano, and Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola of Spain.

— With files from The Associated Press.

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