Celebrating a Friend

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We all know what it's like to be proud of someone we love.  On October 17, 2010, I was overwhelmingly filled with pride for the accomplishment of another.  That day, as I stood holding the hand of my wife in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI declared Brother André Bessette of the Congregation of Holy Cross a saint.  Throughout my life I had grown in devotion to Brother André and had gotten to know him in such a way, that although I had never met him (Brother André died at the age of 92 in 1937), I saw him as a close personal friend that I loved very much.  That day in Rome, I was so proud to see my friend canonized a Saint.

Brother André was a man of heroic virtue who suffered much, lived a life of remarkable humility, and had a rigorous life of personal prayer.  He was a miracle worker, physically curing thousands of individuals by a simple touch of a St. Joseph medal, a bit of oil, or an intercessory prayer to good St. Joseph.  He was a man with a remarkable devotion to St. Joseph and an unparalleled trust in Divine Providence.  His vision for a magnificent Church to honor St. Joseph began with a small altar on a wooded mountain.  That small wooden structure eventually grew to become the Oratory of St. Joseph, a Church that can hold a congregation of over ten thousand; it is the largest Church in all of Canada.  Since his death, over 2 million pilgrims visit the Oratory each year, seeking healing, comfort, or an answer to a prayer.

Over the past few years, I have helped lead several student pilgrimages to the Oratory of St. Joseph.  The opportunity to share the love and devotion I have for St. André with others is one of the great blessings of my work as a campus minister.  If you ever go to the Oratory of St. Joseph, and I hope you do, you will discover that there are many wonderful places on the large campus for prayer.  However, there seems to be one place that touches people in a special and particular way.

There is certain conformity and seemingly singularity of purpose when visitors file into the votive chapel behind the crypt Church underneath the Oratory.  In the votive chapel there are many shrines to St. Joseph under various titles.  You cannot help but marvel at the thousands of crutches covering the walls of the votive chapel that were left behind by those healed by Brother André.  Branching off the votive chapel is a tiny alcove that tunnels further under the upper Basilica and into the mountain.  In this alcove is the black marble tomb of Brother André.  Within this tiny space you are physically close to Brother André, and you cannot help but be drawn emotionally and spiritually close to the saintly porter.

Hundreds of hands daily pause to rest on the cool black marble and many who come to visit find themselves kneeling and weeping.  Above and behind the tomb is a painted fresco that contains the inscription, “Poor, Obedient, Humble Servant of God.”  When I think of my many visits to the Oratory, my memory is flooded with images of myself and fellow pilgrims praying at the tomb and sharing intimate moments with Brother André.  At the tomb, I have seen miracles occur as hearts are mended and crosses are lifted up with renewed strength.  Many people leave that place having firmly established a lifelong friendship, rooted in love, with this special saint.

During this year of faith, take some time to get to know Brother André.  Despite his frailty, his faith worked miracles and moved mountains (quite literally).  Just as I was proud to call Brother André my friend that special day in Rome, God is infinitely more proud of you every time your heart turns to Him in faith.  St. André Bessette, Friend of St. Joseph, pray for us.

Andrew Polaniecki

About Andrew Polaniecki

Andrew Polaniecki is the Director of Campus Ministry at Holy Cross College, where he also teaches in the Theology Department. He studied philosophy and environmental science as an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame and received his Masters in Religious Studies at Loyola University, New Orleans. Andrew, his wife Dré and their 3 boys reside in South Bend, where they are parishioners of St. Joseph Parish.