Being Catholic, I grew up hearing about Brother André a lot. I learned about him via different sources; my parents, religion classes and of course, my grandmother. Gran was a devout Catholic all of her life, and she wholeheartedly believed in the miracles that Brother André performed. She deeply respected and admired him, and when she told me that she’d met him during a visit to the oratory many moons ago, her eyes lit up like fat stars on a dark night. Even as a child, it was obvious to me that Brother André was a special person and a significant part of our culture and history. Brother André was the man.
He is the reason that St. Joseph’s Oratory was built – it took 43 years to complete construction (1924-1967) and it is spectacular. The Oratory is the largest church in Canada and was named by Brother André, who attributed all the miracles that he performed to Saint Joseph himself. Shortly after Brother André arrived at College Notre-Dame in Montreal, rumors started spreading about his ability to perform miracles by healing the sick, and if you visit the oratory today, you will still find walls filled with the crutches of those who were healed by Montreal’s miracle man.
My first trip to the Oratory was organized by my grade 4 class, and we were taken on a tour of the entire property. The first thing I noticed besides the large basilica, were the stairs. As the school bus approached the parking lot, I could see several sets of gray wooden steps nestled into a rather steep incline. These steps led from the bottom of the parking lot all the way to the church. And people were slowly praying their way up, step by step, on their knees. I believe there are 99 steps in total. We visited Brother Andre‘s very small (and modest) housing unit, the gardens, the museum and of course, the basilica. I think what impressed me the most besides the ornate basilica (and the organ), was Brother Andre’s heart, which has been kept in a reliquary in the basilica’s museum since his death. Brother André wanted his heart to be kept in the basilica to protect the building and all those who entered it. This amazes me. Words can’t really describe the fabulousness that is St. Joseph’s Oratory – you need to see it for yourself.
For years, the Oratory collected the names and signatures of those who wished to see Brother André recognized as a saint. Yesterday, Brother André’s rite of canonization took place at St. Peter’s in Rome, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. According to CTV.ca:
“The decision to canonize Brother Andre was the result [of] years of campaigning by supporters in Montreal. In 1940, the Archdiocese of Montreal and the Congregation of Holy Cross and St. Joseph’s Oratory took up the cause, submitting a 4,000-page document in support of his sainthood to the Vatican in 1948. As many as 10 million people also signed a petition calling for Brother Andre to be canonized.”
Fantastic. I am so very proud that I am one of the 10 million people who signed that petition so long ago. Did you?