"If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more those of His household!"
St. Matthew 10:25
Little Alfred Bessette, born at St. Grégoire, Quebec on August 9, 1845, had his roots in our own soil. The future Saint Brother Andrew of Mount Royal was a son of this land and of the French Canadian family. The infant was baptized conditionally the day after his birth in the village church, which at that time was a stone house serving as the only sacred dwelling. He was so frail that his parents had undulated him immediately after his birth.
Since the family was poor, they went four years later to Farnham, where the father could earn his living more readily. One fatal day he went with the lumberjacks to the forest and, as Brother Andrew would say later, the tree he was cutting became locked in the branches of another, and my unfortunate father was crushed to death. The child was nine years old and remembered that his mother remained as though frozen. A widow with ten children, she scarcely recovered from the shock of the accident. She faded away and died three years later of tuberculosis, at the age of 43. I rarely prayed for my mother, but I have often prayed to her, Brother Andrew used to say.
Then the family was scattered. Alfred at the age of twelve had to face life, using his initiative. For him began, then, thirteen years of a wandering life which would take him even to the United States, looking for work. An orphan without schooling, he had to search where he should go and how to survive. Like many boys from large families, he had to leave school at thirteen or fourteen years and earn his bread. And it was also because of his uncertain health and lack of money that he could never undertake prolonged studies. His mother had given him something of her own knowledge, but it was only with great difficulty that he finally learned to sign his name and to read a little. He had only his two arms to offer an employer as guarantee, but despite his frail health, he put his whole heart into his work. He himself said later: In spite of my weakness, I didn't let myself be outdone by the others at work.
After he entered the Community of the Holy Cross as a lay Brother, he spent forty years washing the floors and windows, cleaning the lamps, entering the firewood, acting as porter and commissioner. Then, for more than twenty-five years, he received visitors in his little office during six to eight hours a day, in all kinds of weather, and this until the age of 91. One day he was asked how he had managed to live so long with so little health. With humor he explained his recipe for health: By eating as little as possible and working as much as possible...
An immense work was being realized; crowds which became increasingly dense were pressing to the Oratory of Saint Joseph, for which heaven had chosen him as founder. The great skeleton of the largest sanctuary in the world dedicated to Saint Joseph could already be seen rising on the hilltop. And yet Brother Andrew never talked of my work... my project. On the contrary: I am nothing, only a tool in the hands of Providence, a poor instrument of Saint Joseph. The good Lord took me to humiliate the others. He took the most ignorant one to humiliate the people and the Community of the Holy Cross. If there had been one more ignorant than myself, God would have chosen him instead.
What care he showed in receiving and meeting people! He spent long hours in the office where thousands came to see him. And Brother Andrew remarked one day: It is astonishing! They often ask me for cures, but rarely for humility and the spirit of faith. Yet these are so important. If the soul is sick, we have to begin by caring for the soul. Do you have faith? Do you believe the good Lord can do something for you? Go and make your confession, go and receive Communion, then come back to see me. Such were the words that always returned to his lips, when he was asked for favors and cures. If he suggested making a novena to Saint Joseph, to use the oil or a medal of Saint Joseph, it was because those were as many acts of love and faith, confidence and humility. In general, he encouraged the people to see doctors; sometimes he wept with those who were suffering. But he never ceased to say, How good the good Lord is! God loves you. God is love. And Brother Andrew knew how to bring forth sprouts of hope in the hearts of those he met.
In the night of January 5-6, 1937, an old Brother 91 years old was dying in a modest room of Saint Laurent Hospital, in a suburb of Montreal. The few persons present at his bedside felt, however, that from this little man came an impression of strength, humanity, and moral power such as they had never known before. The dying man moved his head a little: The great Almighty One is coming... Then he raised his eyes to heaven... O Mary, my sweet Mother and Mother of my Jesus, deign to help me! Finally, they heard a few words scarcely intelligible, which were repeated again and again: Saint Joseph, Saint Joseph, Saint Joseph... At 12:50 AM, Brother Andrew breathed his last. The news of his decease was quickly relayed, and the following morning, all of Quebec knew that Brother Andrew was dead.
He spent his life talking to others about God and to God of others, a friend said. This testimony gives a just appreciation of what his life was, filled with faith and love.
Gerald Champagne, E.C., Nos Gloires de l'Église du Canada, extracts, pp. 78-81. Translation O.D.M.