Doorman to become first Holy Cross Saint

By The Beacon | September 11, 2010 9:00pm

Pope Benedict XVI will canonize Blessed Brother André Bessette, C.S.C., a member of the Holy Cross order and doorman.

A fingerprint painting of the Blessesd Br. André, C.S.C. by Fr. Martin Nguyen, C.S.C., a UP alumnus who is an associate professor of painting and drawing at Notre Dame.

By Natalie Wheeler, Staff Writer --

"I'm sending you a saint," wrote Fr. André Provençal to his Holy Cross superior in 1872.

He was referring to Alfred Bessette, a frail little 20-year-old man in his Montreal parish who wanted to join the order. That man was accepted into the order at age 22 as Br. André, and Provençal's prediction proved correct. On Oct. 17, Br. André will become the first Holy Cross member granted sainthood.

The University of Portland, a Holy Cross institution since its beginning in 1901, joins in celebrating Br. André's sainthood. Because of ties with the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Br. André's influence lingers in places such as our own Br. André Chapel in Tyson Hall.

Fr. Gary Chamberland, C.S.C., director of campus ministry at UP, said, "The significance [of Br. André's sainthood] at the university is reflective of the Holy Cross."

Chamberland has a closer connection with the late Br. André than the average member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. In 1936 (one year before Br. André passed away), Chamberland's father was brought to Br. André in hopes of healing a bad leg. While his leg never physically healed, Chamberland's father spoke of the emotional healing that took place when he met the soon-to-be saint.

"He felt a sense of freedom," Chamberland said. "That feeling stayed with him the rest of his life."

Over 10,000 miracles were attributed to Br. André. In spite of the magnitude of his healing, Br. André denied his involvement in any miracles. He instead gave credit to Saint Joseph, in whose honor he built the great Oratory of Saint Joseph.

Fr. Andrew Gawrych, C.S.C., associate director of vocations at the University of Notre Dame, sees Br. André's sainthood as more than just a proud moment for the Holy Cross, but as an inspiration for students.

"We, as young people, have a lot of hope for the future. We have a deep desire, even a need to change the world," Gawrych said. "Br. André can, and hopefully is, an inspiration to let God do that for us."

Br. André was a simple, hard-working, sometimes grumpy man, who for the first four decades of his ministry was assigned the task of answering the door at the College of Notre-Dame in Montreal.

Fr. Claude Pomerleau, C.S.C, recalls his mother's stories of pestering the down-to-earth saint in Montreal as a child in the 1920s.

"They would go to Br. André's place and throw sticks at the porch," Pomerleau said. "And he would come out and behave very human-like, saying ‘Allez-vous en, les enfants!' (Go away, children!)."

In spite of his seemingly humble life, one million people filed past his coffin to honor him when he died in 1937 at age 91.

Brian Doyle, editor of Portland Magazine, believes it is Br. André's everyday simplicity that makes him so exceptional to people.

"The extra special value to me is that we meet Brother André every day," Doyle said. "It gives me a special, dark pleasure that he was this tough, salty, illiterate little man. How cool is that?

Since his death, there has been pressure to canonize Br. André, but it has been a long process. The Vatican follows a strict set of rules regarding the recognition of sainthood. In addition to needing vast evidence of Br. André's pious life, he must have at least two posthumous miracles attributed to him.

The Vatican employs a panel of skeptics who weed out any phenomena that can be doubted. Consequently, it has taken nearly 30 years since Br. André's beatification to find two miracles deemed adequately verifiable.

Br. André's sainthood is a celebration for Holy Cross members, but his canonization is also an inspiration to all.

"Despite the fact that this is a great thing for Catholics, despite all this huff and fuff, he's us, he's you," Doyle said.