Friday, February 19, 2010

Blessed Brother Andre Bessette (Aug. 9, 1845 to Jan. 6, 1937)

When I was a reporter at the Kent County Daily Times in West Warwick, Rhode Island in 2001, I wrote an article about Blessed Brother Andre Bessette, a French Canadian, who in his early twenties, worked in a mill in Natick for several years.
Today, Pope Benedict XVI announced that Blessed Brother Andre Bessette has reached sainthood and will be canonized on Oct. 17, 2010. Being of French Canadian descent, this is particularly exciting for me and I'm even happier for the people of West Warwick.
The piece I was writing was in preparation for a French Canadian Heritage Festival which would begin with a Mass at St. John the Baptist Church, where Blessed Brother Andre Bessette served Mass and lived for a time.
Father Alphonse O. Lethiez said that one day he would become a saint. "I just know he will in my lifetime," he told me.
I learned that after working in the mill (he was not yet in the clergy), Blessed Brother Andre Bessette returned to his native Canada. However many years later, after performing thousands of healings in Canada, he returned to West Warwick, where he had numerous friends in the community.
Blessed Brother Andre was born Alfred Bessette in St. Gregoire d'Iberville, Quebec on Aug. 9, 1845. He was one of 12 children. His father died in a lumbering accident and his mother died from tuberculosis leaving him an orphan at age 12.
He was a sickly boy who took jobs as a baker, shoemaker, blacksmith, and farmhand for six years then moved to New England to work in the mills with thousands of other French Canadians.
Blessed Brother Andre Bessette moved back to Canada in 1867 and told his parish priest that he was interested in a religious life. He was sent to the Community of Holy Cross Brothers in Montreal where he entered the noviate of the congregation and took his final vows at age 28.
The Blessed worked as a doorman at the College of Notre Dame in Montreal for 40 years. He had healing powers which cured thousands of people and a tremendous devotion to St. Joseph who he attributed the miracles to.
Blessed Brother Andre founded St. Joseph's Oratory on Mount Royal. It is now a basilica which receives two million pilgrims each year. When I was 12-years-old, my family went there while on vacation. It is high atop a hill. This was two years before Blessed Brother Andre Bessette had been named a venerable in 1978.
When he died on Jan. 6, 1937, one million people walked by his casket. Blessed Brother Andre Bessette is buried at the basilica. His heart, which was stolen in March 1973 and returned in December 1974, is in a reliquary in the oratory.
It is my hope that the people of Rhode Island realize what an honor it is that this man lived part of his life here and will in some way celebrate his canonization in October.

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