Pope approves sainthood for Montreal’s Brother Andre
VATICAN CITY ( CP) — A small, humble Roman Catholic brother who built a monument that still towers over Montreal will become modern-day Canada’s first saint.
Pope Benedict has approved sainthood for Montreal’s Brother Andre, the founder of St. Joseph’s Oratory who was credited with miracle healings before his death in 1937.
The Pope made the announcement Friday during a ceremony at the Vatican and set the formal canonization for Oct. 17 in Rome.
The announcement triggered a celebratory statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Brother Andre follows in the footsteps of Marguerite d’Youville, who was born in 1701 and was the first saint born on the Canadian territory, almost two centuries before Confederation.
One religious leader happily compared Friday’s milestone to another recent Canadian first.
“ We are proud,” said JeanClaude Cardinal Turcotte.
“ We won a gold medal at the Olympics. This is also a gold medal.”
The cardinal compared each step in Andre’s path to sainthood to an Olympic medal. It was like a bronze when he was declared venerable by the church in 1978, Turcotte said, and like a silver when he was beatified in 1982.
And on Friday: “Finally, a gold medal,” Turcotte said.
He made the remarks at St. Joseph’s Oratory, a grand church built into the mountain slope overlooking downtown Montreal.
It was there in the early 20th century that a young Holy Cross brother built what was, at the time, a simple little shrine to honour the father of Jesus Christ.
Since then Brother Andre, born Alfred Bessette on Aug. 9, 1845 in St-Gregoire-d’Iberville and orphaned at age 12, has been credited with thousands of miracle healings.
Last December, the Pope attributed to him a second miracle healing described as scientifically inexplicable, a necessary step before sainthood.
A member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Brother Andre died in Montreal in 1937 at the age of 91.
In 1904, Brother Andre founded St. Joseph’s Oratory, where he lived and was ultimately laid to rest. His funeral drew an enormous crowd of mourners — estimated by some at nearly one million.
“He was not a big personality. He didn’t have an ego. He was a humble man,” Turcotte said.
“But he had enough faith to move a mountain.”
At the time of his death, the Archbishop of Montreal, George Gauthier, suggested reviving a little known custom of the Middle Ages.
In medieval France and Italy, when people of note passed away their hearts were often removed from their bodies before burial and preserved as a token of admiration or recognition.
It was decided to preserve Brother Andre’s heart in a reliquary at the Oratory.
During the night of March 15, 1973, someone removed the reliquary containing the heart of Brother Andre from its shrine.
Eventually, it was discovered in the basement of a home in South Montreal on December 21st, 1974, based on a tip received by the police.
It was put back on display with the addition of a security system, so that it could continue to serve as an object of contemplation for pilgrims.
A portrait of Brother André, the founding cleric of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, is shown as it hangs on its walls in Montreal, Friday.