When Brother Andre Bessette — known as "the Miracle Man of Montreal" — is canonized this weekend, Rochesterians may recall that a local man had a key role in his long journey to sainthood.
According to representatives of St. Joseph Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, in the 1950s Joseph Audino, a Rochester-area man who was very sick with cancer, prayed for Brother Bessette’s intercession.
"Doctors concluded that after praying to Brother Andre, he dramatically improved," Father Claude Grou, rector of St. Joseph Oratory, said in a telephone interview.
According to a 1978 CBC documentary that featured Audino and his doctor, when Audino’s cancer had spread throughout his body, his doctor looked to provide palliative care for what he determined would be Audino’s final month. Instead, when he injected Audino with radioactive gold, which was intended to ease his suffering, it cured Audino nearly overnight. His tumor was gone.
That miracle was cited when Brother Bessette was beatified in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The beatification was one major step in the process for the poor, uneducated and humble doorman of the Holy Cross Brothers to become renowned not only for miraculous healings but for his saintly example.
This weekend’s canonization has been eagerly awaited by many people in Canada and beyond ever since it was announced that Brother Bessette would become the first Canadian-born man to be beatified, Father Grou said. Although Brother Bessette’s canonization will take place in Rome, the oratory will broadcast the event live beginning at 4 a.m. Oct. 17. Other events planned for this weekend include a 7:30 p.m. Mass Oct. 16 at the oratory’s Crypt Church, an all-night prayer vigil until the canonization, a communal breakfast following the live telecast and the opening of a new exhibit in the oratory’s museum titled "Brother Andre — The Saint of Mount Royal."
Additional celebrations are planned for Oct. 29-31 and will include a major Thanksgiving Mass at 2 p.m. Oct. 30 at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium as well as a prayer at Brother Bessette’s tomb and at the original chapel of the oratory. Most of the Mass will be in French, but key elements will be translated into English.
Brother Bessette was born Alfred Bessette in 1845 and entered the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870. As the porter at Notre Dame College, he welcomed the sick to his door, spread his vision of building a chapel on Mt. Royal, and gave all the credit to St. Joseph and the Lord for the astonishing medical cures that happened to visitors after Brother Bessette prayed with them. Visitors began to leave crutches and other medical devices at the oratory after they no longer needed them, and those devices remain at the oratory as a witness to hundreds of cures. Reports of physical and spiritual healings have continued for years even after Brother Bessette’s death.
"Not everybody speaks of miracles of all time, but of healing, courage, serenity and peace," Father Grou said.
Brother Bessette spread the vision of building a chapel on Mt. Royal in Montreal, and raised money in 1904 for the beginning of construction. In 1917 plans were made for a new Crypt Church to hold 1,000 people, but construction was halted in 1929 during the Great Depression. When asked his opinion in 1936, Brother Bessette told an assembly of the Congregation of Holy Cross, "This is not my work; it is the work of St. Joseph. Put one of his statues in the middle of the building. If he wants a roof over his head, he’ll take care of it."
Brother Bessette would not see the completion of that building, since he died in 1937 at 91, but his words helped motivate the congregation to finish construction. Preparations for his cause for sainthood were begun soon after his death.
In addition to Audino’s miraculous cure, a second miracle was authenticated to allow for his canonization. Father Grou said he is unable to disclose the name of the person who was most recently cured, but he said the miracle involved a child of 9 or 10 years old who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a bicycle accident. Family members prayed for Brother Bessette’s intercession.
"Unexpectedly his condition changed completely and the damage seemed to resolve very quickly and he came out and is living a regular life again," Father Grou said. "Ten years have passed and he seems to be in very good health."
Throughout his life, Brother Bessette refused credit for miraculous healings and remained the humble doorman and porter.
"He was not a person who was great because he had great roles but because he was a great person," Father Grou said. "I think that’s what people recognize in Brother Andre."