The tapestry of Saint Andre Bessette, of Canada, is displayed on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica during a Canonization Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. (AP / Gregorio Borgia)
CTV.ca News Staff
Date: Sun. Oct. 17 2010 9:43 PM ET
The humble Quebec monk who founded Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory was named a saint by Pope Benedict in a ceremony at the Vatican Sunday.
The former Brother Andre, who was credited with miracle healings before his death in 1937, is now known as St. Andre.
The Pope told the thousands of faithful gathered for the ceremony, including hundreds of Canadians, that although St. Andre was poorly educated and working at a menial job, he was an inspiration to many faithful.
“(As) doorman at the Notre Dame College in Montreal, he showed boundless charity and did everything possible to soothe the despair of those who confided in him,” Benedict said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon led the official Canadian delegation to the ceremony.
“Here is a person who throughout his life had a dream, and he was able to pursue that dream, he was able to build the St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal,” Cannon told CTV News Channel on Sunday in a telephone interview from Rome.
“So I think that when one looks at him, and what he was able to do throughout his life, he will be an inspiration for generations of Canadians to come.”
Francoise Bessette, whose grandfather was Brother Andre’s first cousin, was among the thousands of Canadians in attendance.
“I didn’t think this would happen while I was alive,” said Bessette, whose brother was named after the saint. “So to be here today is very special for me.”
In Montreal, the faithful crowded around a big-screen television in the Oratory’s church to watch the ceremony broadcast live from St. Peter’s Square.
His elevation to sainthood will carry some worldly benefits for St. Andre’s hometown, according to Kevin Wright, the president of the U.S.-based world religious travel association.
“When an individual is declared a saint, their shrines attract significant numbers of visitors,” Wright told CTV News Channel. “And we’re going to see that in Montreal.”
He said that while the oratory that St. Andre founded is not as big a draw as sites like the French shrine at Lourdes, it already attracts an estimated one million pilgrims a year.
And Wright said that St. Andre’s sanctification will only boost those numbers.
“Over the next couple of years we could see that double and get up to three, four or even five million people. And that’s incredible.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that the newly canonized St. Andre was “a great Canadian.”
“Brother Andre’s canonization is an important inspiration to us all, and the Oratory will continue to serve as a central landmark of spiritual strength and faith for Quebecers and all Canadians.”
Premier Jean Charest said in a statement from Quebec City that Saint Andre is a major figure in Quebec and that his “canonization gives full measure to his work as well as to his place in Quebec history.”
All the attention and ceremony would likely have embarrassed St. Andre, who was known for his humility and his faith, which has been described by Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte as strong enough “to move mountains.”
St. Andre was born Alfred Bessette in St-Gregoire-d’Iberville on Aug. 9, 1845, and was orphaned at the age of 12.
In 1904, the Holy Cross brother founded Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory, a landmark church on the northern slope of Mount Royal that receives about 2 million visitors every year.
He became known for comforting the sick, and is credited with more than 100,000 miraculous healings before his death in 1937 at age 91. Two of those healings met the Vatican standard for a miracle, reported the Globe and Mail’s Eric Reguly from Rome.
The drive for the canonization goes back to 1940, when it was started by the Archdiocese of Montreal and the Congregation of Holy Cross and St. Joseph’s Oratory.
He was declared “venerable” by Pope Paul VI in 1978, and beatified — declared “blessed” — by Pope John Paul II in 1982.
Benedict announced his canonization in February after officially recognizing a second miracle attributed to him.
Brother Andre died at age 91 on Jan. 6, 1937. During the six days and nights before his funeral, more than one million people filed past his coffin.
His heart still rests in a small shrine in the Oratory, where he was ultimately laid to rest.
The heart, which is on public view as an object of contemplation for pilgrims, is protected by security systems after it was stolen in 1973. Police recovered it almost two years later from the basement of a home near Montreal.
Brother Andre follows in the footsteps of Marguerite d’Youville, who was born in 1701 and was the first saint born on what is now Canadian territory.
Canada’s other saints are Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was born in France in 1620 and is considered the co-founder of Montreal, and eight French-born Jesuit martyrs who were killed during the 1640s.
Benedict gave Australia its first saint, canonizing 19th-century nun Mary MacKillop.
Also canonized Sunday were Stanislaus Soltys of Poland, Italians Giulia Salzano and Battista Camilla da Varano, and Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola of Spain.