The pint-sized, illiterate doorkeeper who set in motion the construction of one of the world's most impressive religious structures, Brother André -- born Alfred Bessette on August 9, 1845, 50 km southeast of Montreal, in rural Mont-Saint-Grégoire -- was a living legend before the turn of the 20th century.
Thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics flocked to Notre-Dame College in Montreal, in between 1875 and 1904 to meet a doorman who was reportedly healing the sick through prayer and touch, a five-foot tall monk who spent thirty years juggling janitorial work with miracle-making -- an orphan almost rejected from the congregation he would serve for 40 years over concerns his chronic stomach problems and headaches would be a burden.
Tales of spontaneously healed smallpox and cured tuberculosis, heart disease and cancer rumored to occur after visiting the diminutive monk baffled physicians. Some doctors wrote letters to Brother André's congregation, affirming their inability to explain patient remission. But while a trail of abandoned crutches and wheelchairs grew in Brother André's healing wake, he maintained that he had nothing to do with these "cures" -- "I have no gift nor can I give any" -- and yet, he was treated like a saint by the masses, including by women who, according to biographer Micheline Lachance, were not Brother André's favorite gender. Keeping with the mores of his time, Lachance claims the fairer sex "got on his nerves." Regardless, praises multiplied and his reputation spread beyond the borders of Canada, enticing yet larger numbers of visitors to show up at the College's doorstep, begging for a miracle.
But not everyone was in awe. As pilgrims grew in number, so did the Congregation of the Holy Cross' concerns that ... read more