My pilgrimage to Montreal…

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ (Luke 10:17-20)

One of the titles of St. Joseph is “Terror of demons”, which I was reminded of recently, when I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. There in the votive chapel there are stations devoted to St. Joseph under some of his titles, one of which is St. Joseph, Terror of Demons. I certainly lit a candle at that station!terror of demons

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons

My trip to Montreal was a blessing from beginning to end! Although we saw many churches and did other things while there, the highlight for us were our two visits to St. Joseph’s Oratory, the preeminent shrine in Canada, fitting since St. Jospeh is the patron saint of Canada. The founder of the Oratory was a humble, simple, uneducated man named Brother André Bessette, who was canonized in 2010. His life is extraordinary, so much so that at one point the secular press dubbed him “The Miracle Man of Montreal”. His story is well worth telling.

Brother André was born Alfred Bessette, the eighth of 12 children in a devout French Catholic home in the Montreal area. He was frail even from the time of his birth, and was sickly for all of his life. Consequently, he spent a good deal of time as a child in the company of his saintly mother, who passed on to him her deep devotion to St. Joseph. When Alfred was nine years old his father died in a tragic accident. From that time on, he took St. Joseph to be his father. Three years later his mother also died, and Alfred and his siblings, now orphaned, were sent to various relatives and friends to be cared for. In order not to be a burden to his aunt and uncle Alfred soon started to look for work. However, due to his frail health and chronic stomach pains, he never held a job for very long. He could not eat much and only grew to be 4’ 10” tall. His smallness and weakness made him unfit for manual labor, and he had difficulty keeping a job.

At one point Alfred went south to work in the textile mills in Connecticut, where providentially, he learned to speak English. However, that too ended, and he wound up back in Montreal, where he re-connected with Father André, his spiritual director. Fr. André sent him to the Congregation of the Holy Cross with the note, “I am sending you a saint.” Initially the congregation rejected him, as he was too frail and uneducated to become a priest, but Archbishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal intervened on his behalf, and Alfred entered the novitiate, receiving the religious name of Brother André, after his beloved spiritual director. They assigned this lowly brother to be doorman of Notre Dame College. He often joked, “When I joined this community, the superiors showed me the door, and I remained 40 years.”

As doorman, Brother André met a lot of people. He got to know them personally and prayed for each of them, regularly only sleeping a couple of hours per night if at all. He would often tell the pilgrims, “Pray to St. Joseph; I will pray with you,” and regularly used a St. Joseph medal, or the oil from the lamp burning in front of his statue as a sacramentals in his prayers for healing. Soon, healings were reported and Brother André’s ministry and fame spread. Before long, thousands of people per week were making the pilgrimage to request his prayers. About the use of sacramentals, Brother André would say, “Such things are acts of love and faith, of confidence and humility. Can one bargain with the good God? The best way…is to submit to His will.”

oil

Oil burning in front of the statue of St. Joseph

Brother André always gave credit for the miracles to St. Joseph. He longed to build a small oratory to St. Joseph. His superior told him he would have to raise the money himself, so he started by cutting the hair of the students at 5 cents a head. When he had raised $200 he was able to build a small oratory, or place of prayer. It was completed in 1904. However, as soon as it was completed it was already too small for the thousands of visitors who were coming each week. Work was begun on what is now called “The Crypt Church” which could hold 1,000 people. This was completed in 1917. However, it seemed a still larger building was needed, so in 1924 work was begun on the Oratory we see today. There were delays and problems—not surprising given the gargantuan undertaking that it was. At one point, during the Depression, they ran out of money to complete the dome. Brother André said, “Put a statue of St. Joseph in the middle of the building. If he wants a roof over his head, he’ll get it.” Within

two months, funds were provided by the many grateful souls that had been helped by his prayers, some of whom were quite wealthy. The current Oratory was not completed until 1967, 30 years after the death of Brother André!

oratory 2016

St. Josph’s Oratory 2016

Brother André died in 1937 at age 97. It was estimated that over one million people filed past his casket at his funeral—all this long before social media! It is also estimated that over 10,000 miracles were attributed to his prayers while he lived! My grandmother was one of those healed through his intercession. At a young age, she became deaf. As the family lived near Montreal, her parents took her to see Brother André. He prayed for her to St. Joseph and she was cured. My mother also made a pilgrimage to Montreal in 1947 at the age of 17. So, of course Brother André, St. Joseph, and the Oratory hold a very special place in my heart.

As I mentioned, Brother André never took any credit for the healings himself, but always gave credit to St. Joseph. In the same vein, when I visited the Oratory I got a very clear impression, that St. Brother André was giving first place to St. Joseph. The first room we encountered after entering the building was the votive chapel, where pilgrims can light candles at any of the nine stations depicting titles of St. Joseph: Patron of the Church, Patron of families, Patron of the sick and suffering, Terror of demons, etc. I felt a strong presence in the votive chapel. St. Joseph himself seemed to be welcoming us. By contrast, St. Brother André’s tomb is off in a side room, out of the way. He seems to be saying to all visitors, “Pray to St. Joseph; I will pray with you.” It is a very moving experience.

patron of the church

Votives burning in front of the statue of St. Joseph, Patron of the Church

In the gift shop we were able to find some relics, medals, and holy oil. I brought a good many items for friends and family. I was able to have the items blessed on site, and then touched the medals to the tomb of St. Brother André, thus making them third class relics.

I remembered all of you and your prayer requests at the Oratory, lit some candles, left your needs in the prayer depository of St. Brother André. There is so much more I could share, but perhaps this has just given you a reason to go there yourself.

prayer depository

Depositing my prayer requests

As a Canadian, St. Joseph is very important to me. In addition to being Patron of Canada, he is also Patron of the Church, and Patron of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, my home diocese.

In reflecting on the life of St. Brother André one thing that occurred to me was that his mission and ministry in life was not primarily one of healing, but of making St. Joseph more well known and loved, of increasing devotion to him for the greater glory of God. I believe God means this to be the era of Mary and Joseph. The Church has had 2000 years in which to solidify her theology and establish Jesus Christ as her true and only centre. However, it seems that Jesus wants his Mother and Foster-Father to be more well known and loved now. He is bringing them out from behind the veil as if to say, “Children, here are your Mother and Foster-Father. Listen to them, as I do.”

We are living in extraordinary times. Grace abounds and the Divine assistance, which knows no limits is being poured out for us. May our love for and trust in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lead us all deeper into the heart of the Holy Family. Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints! Alleluia!

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19 thoughts on “My pilgrimage to Montreal…

  1. Hello Janet,

    Thank you for your writings which are so helpful. St. Joseph is very important to me since he is my personal and national patron. I have a question for you. I believe that every person has a unique mission in life, no matter how humble, given to them by God. I wonder if nations, being a kind of collective personality, also have unique spiritual missions given to them by God that are shaped by their national character and circumstances.

    I read about the visions and messages known as Our Lady of America, in which Our Lady tells the American people that it is their duty to be world leaders in spreading the virtue of purity (which they have been so instrumental in degrading). Do you think that Canada has a national spiritual mission, and that this mission is to spread devotion to St. Joseph? Brother Andre was such an astonishing, massive phenomenon during his time, yet his legacy is barely remembered it seems, at least relative to his original popularity. It feels like such a let-down, an anti-climax, as though God’s grandiose plans for Br. Andre’s mission were quickly over-shadowed and suppressed by the evils of the 20th century, perhaps permanently.

    I see a certain parallel in how Our Lady of Guadeloupe’s work in converting the Aztecs has been overshadowed by Mexico’s descent into Satanic chaos under the drug cartels. Indeed, everywhere the faith dims where it once shone bright raises this same question – can the Kingdom of God fail once it has been established? Perhaps there will soon be a great Christian revival, as Charlie Johnson and others have said, and in that case, might Canada become St. Joseph’s spiritual home on earth, so to speak, the place of his most faithful servants and devotees? It is a very pleasant hope. I would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

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    1. Good thoughts Joseph. Of course the enemy always tries to destroy what God has done, so it is no surprise. For our part, let us do what God asks of us in every moment. That is what we will be judged on, and it includes praying for those He has placed in our spiritual territory.

      Of course I think that countries have a mission! I think it has been said somewhere but I can’t remember where–maybe numerous places. What a lovely idea that Canada’s mission might be to make St. Joseph better known! It is something we can all participate in. However, let us pray that there will be faithful devotees will be in every country. St. Joseph, lead us!

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      1. Today while I was resting and enjoying the sunshine beside my local suburban pond, to my utter amazement a beaver came walking slowly through the grass and stopped about a foot and a half away from me. He looked at me for a moment before slipping into the water to join his mate in feeding along the shoreline. Even city beavers are normally quite shy, in my experience. It can’t be a coincidence that I was just pondering the points above last night. To me it’s a sign confirming my hope about our country’s mission to live and spread the devotion to saint Joseph as brother Andre taught us. It was a beautiful little experience with nature.

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      2. As Charlie says, God loves the ordinary. Very much a confirmation! 🙂 In case some of you don’t know, the beaver is the national animal of Canada. Yes the beaver. Americans have the majestic eagle. We have the lowly beaver. Probably a message in that. 🙂 May God be praised in all creation!

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  2. Thank you for featuring my cousin. I have a lot to live up to. (my grandmother was a Bessette, she is surely a saint, too, having lived a life solely for God).

    Donna Devine
    Wytheville, VA

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  3. Beautiful Peli!!! What a blessing this must have been for you! Interestingly, we are all called to be Saints! I pray that all of us in this blog family will have the faithful flocking to our tombs to be blessed by God…all of us!

    Something that has moved me relatively recently is the fact that our Mother MARY didn’t refer to Her husband as JESUS’ foster father. She referred to him as “Your father”. JESUS would have referred to this most Holy man as “Abba”…daddy. Who can fathom this? Definitely not me 🙂 I find it mind blowing that the author of life and creation referred to a mere human man as “daddy”.

    Luke 2:48 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

    48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

    JESUS I Trust in You!!! Lord increase my lack of Trust!

    Blessings family!
    Love,
    aj

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  4. Thank you Janet. I live in Southern Ontario and have always wanted to make pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory. I have a beautiful statue of him and we have always had recourse to him to watch over our family, our finances and employment, etc. He was head of the Holy Family and is also head of our family. Maybe some day I will get there.. : )
    Fran

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  5. Odd you posted about St Joesph terror of demons. Yesterday July 3, as I was driving looking for a address. I called my daughter to ask her what street I turn on, but the call dropped and she called back. Upon answering it I hear static and s very creepy mans voice say hi. It then began to talk but was not making sense and became more static and what sounded like the old fashion cassette tapes being re wound too fast with high pitched squill sound. I immediately hung up it was creepy. My daughter called back and I told of this and she said the call disconnected and she heard nothing. So I heard this before and I was thinking it was not of God. I been thinking of Saint Joseph …

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  6. Thank you Janet!

    What grace and blessings to have had the gift of reading about your experience Janet. Thank you! God is so very good to me. Thank you for your prayers and your fiat to our most gracious Lord.

    Your sister in Christ, Edel??

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  7. Thank you Janet for sharing. And for “bring us with you”. I have had a love for St. Joseph for a long time now. He has been my stalwart friend through many challenges. How lovely you were able to get to his shrine. I hope I can do it one day. I have a dream to go to both the Oratory and to St. Anne de Beaupre. So far I’ve not been able to do it. I’ll keep praying for the grace to get there. (I’ve felt St. Anne tugging at me for a while now to make the trip) Quebec City is very doable from where I live….even St Jospeh’s Oratory is not impossible. Gotta just do it! Even if I have to go alone.

    St. Joseph Terror of demons pray for us!!!

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    1. St. Joseph is waiting for you! And so is St. Anne. 🙂

      I made a quick trip to Quebec City this go-round, but was not able to get to St. Anne de Beaupre. I had been there in 1993, however. I love Quebec City! On my “next” trip, I will stay there and make a day trip to Montreal.

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      1. We have a summer “camp” on the Quebec border so we do get to Quebec City on occasion. That’s why I’m pretty sure I could get to Ste Anne de Beaupre if I just give in to the reality that I will have to do it alone. (scary thought because I can get lost very easily!) Sometimes they offer pilgrimages to both shrines through our diocese here in Maine but this summer I couldn’t do it. Bad timing because of other commitments. Guess I’ll just have to say, “dear Ste Anne, make it happen! Ask your Grandson!” 😉

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  8. My parents made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Anne de Beaupre back in 1946. It was while they were on their honeymoon. My dad was not catholic at the time but he climbed the steps on his knees with my mom …….a beautiful testimony of their faith in God and in each other ! My dad became catholic a few yrs later. They inspired me so much, each in their own way, to practice my faith and to believe in God.

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