On October 17, Pope Benedict XVI formally declared the first saint of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and the first male Canadian-born saint with the canonization of Brother André Bessette.  St. André was canonized with five other saints:  Stanislaw Soltys Kazimierczyk, Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola, Giulia Salzano, Camilla Battista da Varano, and the first Australian saint, Mother Mary Helen MacKillop.  Many Notre Dame students, priests, faculty, and alumni attended the canonization ceremony.   

            St. André Bessette was born in Quebec, Canada on August 9, 1845.  At the age of 12, St. André and his nine siblings were orphaned.  Since St. André was small in stature and often in poor health, he was forced to transfer jobs frequently. 

In 1872, André found a new home with the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Montreal where he became the doorman at Notre Dame College in Quebec.  St. André joked, “My superiors showed me the door, and I stayed there for forty years.”  Over the years, St. André became known as the “Miracle Man of Montreal” for his power to heal people both physically and spiritually. 

St. André credited St. Joseph with the numerous miraculous healings. In 1904, St. André’s special devotion to St. Joseph inspired him to begin a campaign to build a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph on Mont-Royal.  In 1924, construction began on what was to become St. Joseph’s Oratory.  St. André died in 1937, at the age of 91.

            In his homily for the canonization Mass, Pope Benedict XVI described St. André’s faith: “For him, to believe meant to submit freely and lovingly to Divine Will. Everything existed through the mystery of Jesus. He lived the beatitude of the pure of heart, that of personal rectitude. It is thanks to this simplicity [that] he showed many God… ‘Do not try to have your trials taken away from you,’ he said, ‘rather, ask for the grace to endure them well.’ For him, everything spoke of God and His presence. May we, following his example, search for God with simplicity [in order] to discover Him always present in the core of our lives!” 

The Center for Social Concerns, the Rome Studies Program, and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies organized service-oriented activities for students and alumni who attended the canonization. 

Rosie McDowell, Director of Community Based Learning Outreach for the Center for Social Concerns, described the canonization experience.

“For Notre Dame, as a community of believers, it is important to celebrate this first Saint of the Congregation of Holy Cross and to connect to the universal Church in honoring and learning from not only André’s ministry but all the newly canonized from around the world,” she stated.  “Within the group of Notre Dame participants, we discovered among ourselves many connections and relationships that are an example of this communion with each other.”

Fr. Bill Lies, CSC, the executive director of the Center for Social Concerns, shared his thoughts.

“The canonization of Brother André Bessette, CSC, is a blessed event not only for all of us—the men and women of the Congregation of [the] Holy Cross—but also for the many whom we engage in our apostolates and ministries throughout the world,” he said. 

“He was a humble servant of God and a wonderful example of humility and saintliness for all of us and for our time,” he continued.  “André’s example has a special place at the heart of our mission at the Center for Social Concerns, as he reached out with love and compassion to the sick and those in need.  There is a beautiful stained glass image of him in one of the windows of Our Lady of Mercy Chapel in Geddes Hall, and we will soon find a special place in the chapel for a relic of Saint André that was recently gifted to us.  This is a blessed moment for Holy Cross, Notre Dame and for the Church.”

            Jenna Heffernan, a Notre Dame undergraduate studying abroad in Rome, said, “It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m so grateful to have had it while studying in Rome.  I wasn’t aware of who Brother André was before, and now I see that he definitely correlates with the theme of service that is such a part of the Notre Dame experience.  He’s a role model for everyone.” 

            Anne Smrek, also studying in Rome, described the joy that permeated the event.

“What struck me the most was how many people that were there,” she commented.  “The whole atmosphere was one of excitement and celebration.  I think that’s how we should always express our faith.  We should be excited about living a life of doing God’s will.  That’s what we’re celebrating: the lives of the saints who did that.”

            Stephanie House is head of the Rover’s Rome Bureau, but we miss her here in South Bend.  Contact her at shouse1-at-nd.edu.