Alfred Bessette was born in 1845 near Montreal, Canada to a poor, working-class family. He experienced great tragedy in his life—his father died after a lumbering accident when he was only 9-years old, and his mother died from tuberculosis when he was 12. The deaths of his beloved parents, and his own struggles with illness, only made his faith in God and compassion for others that much stronger.
After a short stint working in the textile mills of the United States, Alfred returned to his native Canada and pursued his calling as a Brother of Holy Cross. He entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870 and was given the name Bro. André. His first assignment, which was to last him 40 years, was as the doorman of the community’s school in Montreal, Notre Dame College.
Bro. André developed a deep devotion to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the patron saint of the Brothers of Holy Cross. As people came to the school, burdened by their own struggles and suffering, Bro. André directed them to pray to St. Joseph. Through Bro. André’s healing touch, thousands of people were cured and he became known as the “Miracle Man of Montreal.” One of his greatest contributions during his lifetime was building St. Joseph’s Oratory, the largest shrine in the world dedicated to St. Joseph.
Bro. André died in 1937 at the age of 91. The last words on his lips were the name of his beloved saint, “Joseph.” Over a million people came to pay him their final respects. Recognizing the saintly life of this humble man, Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1982 and Pope Benedict XVI canonized him on October 17, 2010. To this day, thousands come in pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory, where his tomb lies, to receive spiritual and physical healing. The memorial of St. André is celebrated on January 6.