Locals have ties to new saint - Catholic Courier
Eloi Cochin, 12, of France, follows a booklet showing St. Andre Bessette during a Mass of thanksgiving at Santa Andrea della Valle Church in Rome Oct. 18. Eloi Cochin, 12, of France, follows a booklet showing St. Andre Bessette during a Mass of thanksgiving at Santa Andrea della Valle Church in Rome Oct. 18.

Locals have ties to new saint

Pauline Walsh said it’s hard to describe the feeling of being present in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to witness the Oct. 17 canonization of St. André Bessette, who was her great-grandmother’s first cousin.

"It leaves you weak at the knees, and it’s a feeling that you can’t explain," said Walsh, who resides in Irondequoit.

Known as the "Miracle Man of Montreal," St. Bessette was a poor, uneducated doorman of the Holy Cross Brothers who became renowned not only for miraculous healings but for his saintly example.

Born Alfred Bessette in 1845, he became known as Brother André when he entered the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870. At Notre Dame College, he welcomed the sick to his door and gave all the credit to St. Joseph and the Lord for the astonishing medical cures that happened to visitors after St. Bessette prayed with them. Visitors began to leave crutches and other medical devices at St. Joseph Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal 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 St. Bessette’s death.

"Not everybody speaks of miracles of all time, but of healing, courage, serenity and peace," Father Claude Grou, rector of St. Joseph Oratory of Mount Royal, said in a telephone interview several weeks before the canonization.

St. Bessette spread the vision of building a chapel on Mt. Royal in Montreal, and raised money to build it in 1904. It was soon expanded and in 1917 a new Crypt Church hold 1,000 people was built. Construction was then begun on a basilica, but it was halted due to the Great Depression. When asked his opinion in 1936, St. 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."

St. Bessette would not see the completion of the basilica, since he died in 1937 at 91, but his words helped motivate the congregation to finish construction. Preparations for his sainthood cause were begun soon after his death.

Walsh said her family members have long been devoted to their cousin because they believe his prayers helped heal her brother of a severe form of eczema that required daily bandaging. In 1934, Walsh’s family traveled from northern Vermont to Montreal, where they met with St. Bessette. He rubbed oil and a medal on her brother, then her mother asked what the family should do with him the next morning.

"What do you do with him in the morning?" Walsh said St. Bessette inquired.

Her mother said that the family gave the boy a daily bath to soak his bandages, and the future saint responded that that was what they should do. Yet when they put the boy in the tub the next morning, the bandages fell off, and the eczema had disappeared.

Walsh said she was about 1½ years old at the time, and she does not know whether she traveled along on the trip with her family. But she does remember being 4½ years old and hearing the telephone call informing her family of St. Bessette’s death.

Over the years, she has prayed for his intercession, and several times she believes her prayers have been answered, she said.

"He has made me more conscious of the fact that we should trust in God," said Walsh, who attended the canonization with her husband, Daniel; her sister, Lorraine Carey; her daughter and son-in-law, Celeste and John Veloski; her 10-year-old granddaughter, Christina Veloski, a student at St. Joseph School in Penfield; and a cousin and his wife who live in Vermont.

Another person with Rochester ties who made the trek to Rome for the canonization was Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, chief executive officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, which operates the Canadian Catholic television network Salt†Light.

During the trip, Father Rosica, a Rochester native, served as a spokesman for international press covering St. Bessette’s canonization. He also premiered the majority of a new Salt†Light documentary called "God’s Doorkeeper: St. Andre of Montreal," and filmed some of the final scenes of the documentary during the canonization. It will be available for purchase at www.saltandlighttv.com.

Father Rosica said in a telephone interview that St. Bessette was able to set a powerful example for humanity of how to treat others, in part because he was an uneducated, common person.

"He teaches the church how to welcome people," Father Rosica said.

In addition to these local connections to the canonization, some may recall that a miraculous healing of a local man was cited by Pope John Paul II during the 1982 beatification of Brother Bessette. In the 1950s Joseph Audino, a Rochester-area man who was sick with cancer, prayed for Brother Bessette’s intercession, said Father Grou, the oratory representative.

"Doctors concluded that after praying to Brother André, he dramatically improved," he said.

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.

In addition to Audino’s miraculous cure, a second miracle was authenticated to allow for Brother Bessette’s canonization. Father Grou said he is unable to disclose the name of the person who was most recently cured, but noted that 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, the saint refused credit for miraculous healings and remained the humble doorman and porter.

"He was not a person who was great not because he had great roles but because he was a great person," Father Grou said. "I think that’s what people recognize in Brother André."

EDITOR’S NOTE: Additional celebrations of St. Bessette’s canonization will take place in Montreal Oct. 29-31. They will include a major Thanksgiving Mass at 2 p.m. Oct. 30 at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium as well as a prayer at St. 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.

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