The Great Work of Brother André
Vor vielen Jahren habe ich die kleine Broschüre über den hl. Bruder Andreas gelesen. Dessen Inhalt hat mich so begeistert und angeregt, ein inniges Verhältnis zum hl. Josef anzustreben.
Brother André was full of tender, childlike love to St Joseph. Since his earliest childhood he had chosen this Saint as his foster father at the suggestion of the pious parish priest Provençal. He was his inseparable companion and his confidant during his restless life as an orphan and in all ups and downs of his childhood and youth. He invoked his help in all his trials, fears and needs and he always found help and comfort in all mental and physical sufferings. He enjoyed the purest pleasures of his life when being close to his dear friend.
He wished others to share this happiness as well. Therefore, he tried with greatest fervour to instil the devotion to this powerful Saint into his fellow brothers, the students, visitors and the sick. His most ardent desire was to spread the devotion to the Protector of the Catholic Church in all places. For this reason he made a bold and fantastic plan to found an oratory in honour of St Joseph on Mount Royal. Mount Royal rises almost in the centre of the city of Montreal – the city derives its name from this mountain – facing the college of the Fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. At that time it was a steep hill, covered with a dense forest. It was this wilderness which this modest lay brother wished to turn into a basis for a magnificent shrine in honour of the holy nursing Father of JESUS. His fellow brothers considered this to be foolishness and delusions of grandeur.
It was in the year 1890. Brother André was constantly pining for Mount Royal. He was often seen climbing the rocky path in the evening. “Brother André, where did you go yesterday evening? I saw you climbing up the mountain,” a student asked him one day. – “I go up there to pray to St Joseph. It is quiet there.” – “What? You go there on your own? Are you not afraid?” – “Why should I be afraid? Would you like to come with me?” – “Yes, I would love to, Brother André!” – “Then ask your mother’s permission and we will go there tonight after supper.”
And really, that night Brother André and his little companion knelt at the foot of a tree in a clearing. “Why do we pray in front of this tree?” the boy marvelled. – “I hid a medal of St Joseph there. He must help us to purchase this piece of land.” – “Why do you want to have this mountain?” – “In order to offer a nice spot to St Joseph.” It was touching to see the brother and the little one pray in front of this tree with such fervent devotion, a tree which was to witness such wonderful events. Subsequently they made many pilgrimages to this tree and every time Brother André repeated to his little companion: “We will definitely obtain this site. St Joseph needs a place.”
He also asked his fellow brothers to join his prayers. One day the master of the college asked him: “Brother André, could you tell me why the little statue of St Joseph on my closet is facing the mountain each time I tidy up my room?” Trustingly the brother replied: “Because St Joseph wants to be venerated there.”
After several attempts, Brother André finally succeeded in winning over the fellow brothers of his order to his plan. On 22 July 1896 they purchased Mount Royal. Thus the medal of St Joseph had had the desired effect. So every day Brother André climbed up Mount Royal with the permission of his superiors accompanied by Brother Alberich. Both were armed with an axe and full of enthusiasm cut many trees to clear the way for an avenue, which was to be called “Boulevard St Joseph”. Brother André placed a little statue of St Joseph in a niche of the rock. He summoned the parents of the students to climb up the mountain to enjoy the magnificent view and to say a devout prayer to St Joseph. This was the very modest beginning of a pilgrimage, which would not cease to attract ever more people.
At the beginning of the summer of 1904, Brother André was allowed to build a little chapel halfway up the hill. On a Wednesday, 19 October 1904, the first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated in this little wooden chapel. The fathers saw the chapel as a solution to be freed of the many undesirable visitors at the college.
An amazing miracle marked the beginning of the work. One day a sick man entered the college. He was emaciated and suffered from incurable cancer of the stomach. Looking at him Brother André said: “Would you like to join me tomorrow morning and work with me on the hill?” – “What am I supposed to do there?” – “We must widen the road to the chapel. I need a strong man to help me.” – “Dear brother, I would like to but I no longer have the strength. I want to eat but I cannot swallow.” – “All right, come and have breakfast with me tomorrow, and then we will cut trees.” The next morning the man came and put the generous breakfast, which Brother André served him, to good use. Without the slightest difficulty he was able to swallow everything. Then, this ‘walking corpse’ started to work and slaved away the whole day long like a healthy woodsman. He no longer felt any pain, the cancer had completely disappeared. This man helped Brother André for many months.
On 19 November 1904, a statue of St Joseph was dedicated in the chapel of the college and in solemn procession transferred to the new shrine on the hill; a way of the cross was also installed in it. However, this tiny chapel could not in any way hold the ever-increasing number of people. Consequently, two long rows of benches were put before the chapel.
Vicar general Mgr Relicort consecrated the chapel in the presence of the teachers and students of the college and a large crowd. At the front of the chapel a second statue of St Joseph was erected. And so the Oratory of St Joseph had become reality. From now on the Protector of the Holy Church will not cease to pour out his acts of grace on all human needs at this sacred place.
Brother André was 59 years old, a little, frail man, who outwardly was totally insignificant. All his struggles and troubles of past years had now been forgotten. With heartfelt pleasure he enjoyed the triumph of his great friend, the modest craftsman of Nazareth. But it was only a very simple beginning. The project had not yet been approved by the diocesan authorities. Nor had they given permission to reserve the Most Blessed Sacrament in the new oratory. Brother André was only allowed to exercise his works of charity with the sick, which thronged to Mount Royal. He welcomed them at the foot of the statue of St Joseph.