The Congregation of Holy Cross holds a very special place in my heart! This religious congregation ran the college that I attended. Sometimes I think it was Holy Cross that prepared me to become a Franciscan! There are many ways that my college years and the spirituality of Holy Cross prepared me to receive the invitation to become a Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. St. Andre is one of those ways!
During one of my college breaks, I travelled with other students to the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal. This oratory was envisioned and built under the guidance of St. Andre who had a great devotion to St. Joseph. For me, this pilgrimage invited me to a deeper friendship with both St. Andre and St. Joseph.
Due to the educational charism of Holy Cross and his lack of intelligence, Alfred Besset (later Brother Andre) was initially turned down from entering the Congregation of Holy Cross. It was only after a priest friend intervened and told the superiors that he was ‘sending them a saint’ that Alfred was accepted to enter. He remained in poor health for the rest of his life and was not able to succeed in the educational rigors as his religious brothers did. It was an odd situation for a man who couldn’t learn much in a teaching order. So Brother Andre became the porter (doorkeeper) at a Holy Cross school in Montreal.
As porter, Br. Andre would receive people, talk, and pray with them. Eventually, people began to realize that often those who visited Br. Andre found miraculous things happening in their lives. Always Br. Andre would tell those who came to him to “go to Joseph.” Soon, many sick people began to visit this “Miracle Man of Montreal,” as he was called. Br. Andre would pray for and entrust the people to the care of St. Joseph and anoint their infirmities with oil from a candle burnt under an image of St. Joseph. Br. Andre knew that Joseph, who had so faithfully cared for and protected Mary and Jesus, would not cease to care for the beloved of Jesus: the faithful of His Church. Br. Andre always had immense confidence in the intercession of the foster father of Jesus.
It was due to Br. Andre’s great love and confidence in St. Joseph that he dreamt of building a large oratory dedicated to him on the hill across from the school where he had commended so many people to St. Joseph’s care. This seemed like an impossible dream. But the people of Montreal helped Br. Andre raise money and building materials to begin the project. Andre himself raised money by giving his brother haircuts for a nickel!
Today on the top of Mount Royale in Montreal stands the large, beautiful Oratory of St. Joseph. It has a beautiful crypt chapel next to a votive chapel in which St. Joseph is invoked by his various titles. Lining the walls of this candle lit room are countless crutches from the many people who have been healed through the intercession of St. Joseph and St. Andre. On the other side of this chapel is the tomb of St. Andre. On the upper level is a large basilica (which was completed after Andre’s death). Overall it is a large campus including life-size stations, a museum of the life of St. Andre, and even a small free standing chapel where St. Andre once lived.
For most people who visit the most striking experience is the votive chapel covered in crutches, canes, and other objects people ceased to need after their visit! While I was on pilgrimage there, the most beautiful experience was standing before this casing in which St. Andre’s heart is kept. I stood before it, in prayer, thinking about how much this heart before me loved! It was a heart full of confidence in God, of trust in His goodness, of compassion for others, and of a deep love for all souls! As I stood there and asked St. Andre to help make my heart like his- so selfless, loving, and trusting of St. Joseph- I knew he was inviting me to deepen my devotion to the foster father of Christ.
A little later, I was praying in the adoration chapel and meditating on the Holy Family. I had a profound understanding at the time that Jesus was giving me His own earthly parents to be my own as well. Like Andre had done before, Jesus was doing now: offering me Joseph as my own protector and entrusting me to his good fatherhood.
Only a few months after this pilgrimage in college did I start thinking more about the possibility that the Lord was calling me to the religious life. My discernment of this call and the religious family that it would lead me to continued for some years. As I got to know the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration more, I began to learn more about our foundress and her spirituality. Like St. Andre, our foundress, Bl. Mother Maria Theresia, had a deep devotion to St. Joseph. It’s in this way that I think Holy Cross prepared me for my Franciscan vocation.
Mother Maria Theresia continually entrusted her sisters and needs to the care of St. Joseph. In the very first days of the religious community, there was little money or food for the sisters. Always Mother Maria Theresia went to Joseph, even placing the community bills under a statue of his. One time a construction project was forced to cease mid-building. The sisters simply didn’t have the money to finish building. Mother, as she was accustomed to do, went to Joseph, telling him if he provided she would offer him all her sisters. The next day, the sisters received a donation for the exact amount needed for the building. From that day on every Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration receives the title “of St. Joseph” with her religious name.
That day when I prayed before St. Andre’s heart asking him to teach my heart to love St. Joseph like him, I had no idea that one day I would be so intentionally entrusted to St. Joseph. Since I have visited the oratory, my love of this good saint has grown greatly. Since I have been named Sr. Fiat of St. Joseph, my reliance on him only continues to grow. The protector of the Holy Family continues to protect all the vocations of those who ask him to do so. He is a good father who constantly seeks to protect and guide all our vocations - mine and yours!
Bl. Mother Maria Theresia, pray for us.
St. Andre, pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
~ Written by Sister M. Fiat
(Pictured above is the heart of Saint Andre)