Thousands flock to the Vatican to welcome St. André to sainthood

By  John Thavis, Catholic News Service
  • October 20, 2010
Br. Andre Bessette posterVATICAN CITY - The former doorman from Montreal’s Notre Dame College received a hero’s welcome from approximately 5,000 Canadians in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 17 when Pope Benedict XVI elevated Blessed Brother André to sainthood.

In proclaiming him St. André Bessette, Benedict praised André for living “the beatitude of the pure of heart.”

The Pope said St. André “showed boundless charity and did everything to soothe the despair of those who confided in him.” Although he had little instruction, he “understood what was essential to the faith” and had an intense prayer life.


André was one of six new saints proclaimed by Benedict in a two-hour liturgy attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims. The large Canadian contingent included Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Montreal archbishop Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte and Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins.

Relics of the six saints — St. André Bessette, St.  Mary MacKillop,  St. Camilla Battista Varano, St. Stanislaw Soltys,  St. Giulia Salzano and St. Juana Cipitria Barriola — were brought to the altar during the liturgy. Tapestry portraits of the new saints hung from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica behind the papal altar, and many pilgrims carried their own personal pictures of the saints.

“St. André was famous for his humility, and for miracles of spiritual and physical healing,” Collins said. “But perhaps we should also remember that his work was to be a doorkeeper, and he graciously offered welcome to all whom he met. We should imitate St. André in many things, but perhaps in a particular way we should seek to be like him in welcoming everyone as Christ.”

Among a crowd  estimated at 50,000 was a 19-year-old Quebec man whose unexplainable cure from a cranial trauma was recognized by the Vatican as the second miracle directly attributed to St. André. The man, who emerged from what doctors had called an irreversible coma at age nine, has always guarded his privacy and remains anonymous to this day.

Several Canadians in the square spoke warmly of St. André.

Diane Guillemette of Montreal said that when her mother was 16 years old “she had a problem with her ear and she went to Brother André and he healed her.” Guillemette called St. André “an example of patience, humility and love of work.”

One of 12 children born in St. Gregoire, St. André suffered from a chronic stomach ailment that kept him out of school. By age 12 he was an orphan and, after struggling as a manual labourer, at age 25 he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870.

St. André spent countless hours ministering to the sick and lonely and his devotion to St. Joseph and his reputation for healing attracted thousands of people.

In 1914 he founded a tiny chapel that was expanded over the years to become the magnificent St. Joseph’s Oratory that overlooks Montreal from Mount Royal.

When he died in 1937, a million people passed by his coffin. His feast day is Jan. 6.

St. André is the first Canadian-born male saint and joins Marie-Marguerite d’Youville, who was canonized in 1990, as the only saints born on Canadian soil.

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