This fall, Notre Dame Campus Ministry led a group of students on a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada.  The oratory was founded by St. André Bessette, the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross’ to be canonized.  Read on for one student’s reflections on the journey.

And there it was, a heaping Canadian concoction of crispy fries and cheese curds that could barely withstand the smothering of warm gravy drenching its entirety.

Some called it an objet d’art. Others proclaimed it to be pure genius. Yet most simply said “Eww.” Regardless of the reaction, poutine remains one of the highlights of the fall pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montréal. Like a good helping of poutine, the pilgrimage was at times cheesy, bringing all those gathered around closer together and eventually leaving everyone feeling warm and satisfied, craving for seconds.

We departed the cozy campus of Notre Dame for Canada amidst a curtain of dense darkness, a testament to our own murky unfamiliarity with our neighbor to the north. Little did we know that what lay ahead would make for an eventful fall break and the forging of friendships.

After a few hours of sleep and conversations with fellow bus riders, we crossed the Canadian border into an alien world of bilingual signs and mayonnaise condiments. Of course, dazzled as we were by the smattering of French here and there, everyone was looking forward to seeing the grandeur of the St. Joseph’s Oratory. We had been sufficiently catechized on the life and contributions of St. André and were ecstatic to know that we’d be able to visit his shrine to St. Joseph on the first anniversary of his canonization.

During the pilgrimage, the students from Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College were exposed to an activity that punctuates the day of every Old Collegian: praying the Divine Office. Coupled with this, we also prayed a novena to St. Joseph in honor of St. André’s devotion to the foster-father of Our Lord.

In Canada, we saw many beautiful examples of Catholic architecture, from the graceful arches of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto to the elegant maritime charm of the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours. But none could surpass our first glimpse of the mighty steps leading up to the oratory on Mount Royal, a majestic sight set against a backdrop of a crisp Montréal morning. It was a powerful witness of one man’s trust in Divine Providence, an image that demonstrates how faith can truly move mountains.

The short sightseeing trips and the discussions led by the pilgrimage’s chaperones culminated in our two days at the oratory, a period of reflection and prayer. Like the throngs of people who visited St. André and were cured in the early twentieth century, we left our own spiritual crutches behind at the oratory during the healing service conducted by Fr. Drew and Fr. Brad. It was an amazing experience receiving absolution in such a warm and inviting place; one could truly feel the presence of God’s doorkeeper who was allowing us entrance into the Lord’s forgiveness.

Before the pilgrimage, we were reminded to compose ourselves as model citizens since we would be representing Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College, and that the Canadian Catholics were always delighted and amazed to see young people actively practicing their faith. He gave the impression that we might actually inspire the Canadians to look forward to the future of the Church. I like to think, however, that it was the young Canadian men and women we met on the pilgrimage who inspired us and who showed us great examples of how to live the faith in contemporary society.

The Newman Centre at the University of Toronto, a home for students who want to promote and lead by example their Catholic faith, hosted us on the first night of the trip. Once there, Salt + Light Television producer Mary Rose Bacani gave a lecture on how she composed and gathered information for her documentary, God’s Doorkeeper: St. André of Montréal.  She spoke of how she was drawn to a vocation in Catholic media after college, even though she had little experience with TV.

Through the pilgrimage, I am coming to understand the humble resignation to suffering that St. André demonstrated in his life. He is definitely one of the greatest role models for Catholics everywhere. It is inspiring to be discerning a vocation with a congregation that helped make a saint out of such a holy man.

Jeremy is a freshman Old Collegian.  Contact him at