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Julie VanSpall – Home Front

Talk to God like a friend: Brother Andre 

Voices Oct. 16, 2018

St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, with statue of St. Joseph in the foreground. St. Andre Bessette, who founded the oratory, urged people to pray by talking to God “the way you do a friend,” writes Julie VanSpall. (St. Joseph’s Oratory photos)

“When you pray, you talk to God the way you do a friend.” These words of St. Andre Bessette resonate with me. Each morning, I talk to God in a personal way. Doing so definitely has positive impacts on the tone of my day.

Over the past year and half, my prayer routine has included talking to St. Andre, as well. I was introduced to St. Andre by my mom and a friend who had both developed personal relationships with him. I became intrigued by St. Andre, his humility, his devotion to St. Joseph, and the many stories of healing associated with him.

To tell the truth, I had never paid much attention to modern-day stories of healing until I became acquainted with St. Andre. I suppose I tend to be skeptical; however, when a young friend became ill with cancer, I turned in desperation to St. Andre. Within a short time, I learned that a great-uncle of that friend had also been afflicted with cancer in his youth. The latter’s mother had prayed to then-Brother Andre, so my young friend’s grandmother was also turning to this special saint, canonized in 2010. I believe it was no coincidence that we were both speaking to St. Andre each day. I also believe it is no coincidence that my friend and his great-uncle were both cured of their cancers.

St. Andre had a connection to St. Joseph, who due to his close relationships with Jesus and Mary is patron of the Catholic Church in addition to being patron of the sick. When the former Alfred Bessette first became a religious brother in 1870 in Montreal, taking the name “Brother Andre,” people began seeking his blessings due to reports of healings associated with him. Brother Andre would bless the sick, and when asked if he would heal a person, would reply, “No, not I, but Saint Joseph can, if you have confidence in him,” according to the Visitor’s Guide of St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.

When people asked Brother Andre if he would heal them, he would reply, “No, not I, but Saint Joseph can, if you have confidence in him.”

Over time, the small chapel where St. Andre met and prayed for hundreds of people each day became too small for the crowds of people seeking healing and returning to give thanks. Eventually, approval was granted for the erection of a large basilica at St. Joseph’s Oratory, and the small chapel was relocated on the same site.

This past summer, my husband and I took our family to St. Joseph’s Oratory. It was a gorgeous venue with a garden of huge Stations of the Cross statues, splendid altars, magnificent stained-glass windows, and a stunning view of Montreal. Any tourist would enjoy the beauty; any Catholic would appreciate the reverence and history of the site; anyone engaged in a “friendship” with St. Andre would be moved beyond words.

I was pleased to see and show my children the chapel where Brother Andre served the people. The walls around the altar were plastered in plaques offering thanks to St. Joseph, and on both sides of the altar were an astounding number of crutches left behind by people who had been healed. Above the chapel was a little apartment where Brother Andre had lived. To see the table where he ate and prayed and the tiny bed where he slept was very touching – so touching that I visited the chapel twice during my week in Montreal.

In the larger church, we had a chance to visit the crypt where St. Andre’s body has been laid to rest. In a book by the altar of St. Andre, I wrote my own prayer of thanks for the healing of my little friend. Additionally, I wrote the names of other loved ones in need of healing and comfort.

I know that God has a plan and not everyone we pray for will be cured from their physical ailments. In my daily prayers, I pray for bodily strength, recovery if it is God’s will, and for the emotional healing and consolation of all who are ill.

St. Andre’s humble way inspires me to ask him – the way I’d talk to a friend – to intercede for the sick and to bless people with the realization that all healing comes from God.

Thank you, St. Andre. Please pray for us.