January 6th, Memorial of St. Andre Bessette
Yes, I know, it’s the Epiphany, right? Not quite. January 6th is the traditional twelfth day of Christmas and the usual date for the celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord (the feast of the Three Kings). However, the bishops of our country decided a while back that it was too important a thing to let slip by on a weekday. After all, they reasoned, Catholics have an obligation to participate in Sunday mass. Why not simply transfer the celebration of Epiphany to the nearest Sunday? Problem solved. Well, actually, the problem was not solved. You see, slightly north of 50% of all Roman Catholics in the US are Latino in cultural origin. And, as it turns out, Epiphany is a HUGE deal for them. So, officially, we’ll do it on Sunday. But don’t be surprised if you encounter Facebook friends posting about the Dia de los Tres Reyes today.
Now then… For those of us following the actual calendar, today’s saint is a quasi-American, if that interest you. In 1982 Blessed John Paul II beatified Andre Bessette. Beatification is the last step before sainthood. In 2010, John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI raised to the honors of the altar the man of whom I will now write.
Andre Bessette was born in 1845 just outside Montreal. Yes, it’s in Canadia. At the age of 20 he came to the US, for there was work aplenty here. What did he do? Well, despite poor health which would dog him for the rest of his life, he took a job in a textile mill in New England. Yes, they were busy making fabrics to be used by the Union Army during the Civil War. He returned to Canada in short order and joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross (CSC in Latin), the order of brothers who founded and still run Notre Dame University. Because of his health, schooling had never really been his “thing” and so he could not read or write. Nevertheless, every member of a community has to do something and Andre was given the job of doorkeeper. Imagine that. They made him the doorkeeper. He kept this post for almost 40 years.
He had a great devotion to St. Joseph. He built a little chapel called an oratory. Today, that oratory has grown and is now the Basilica of St. Joseph in Montreal. What’s most amazing (or not surprising at all if you know about the saints) is that Andre’s light seemed to naturally shine. Despite his “ignorance” and ill health, people seemed to sense that he was a man very close to God. People sought his counsel and asked of his prayers. And in due time they even sought his prayers for physical cures. Thousands, according to some sources, were miraculously healed of affliction through his prayers. He died in 1937 and his fame continued to spread.
And like that, the young man who was probably told numerous times that he would never achieve anything grand, that he shouldn’t hope for too much from this world, became a saint of the Church and one of his native Montreal’s favorite sons. Just goes to show what you can accomplish if you entrust your worries and frailty to God.