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!
|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 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!
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.
|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.
|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!