Brother Andre Series: Number Nine

I often listen to our student volunteers question their futures. High school students wonder if college is the best solution for future employment. College seniors panic about how to find next year’s job so they can start paying off student loans. As the students spend time at the Downtown Chapel, they begin to realize that faith and service are key ingredients to their future lives and careers. The young volunteers discover from people living in poverty that real relationship and genuine kindness will open many doors to the future.

Many students volunteer in our parish hospitality center searching for a deeper meaning in their lives. These talented people simply want to give their hearts to a real cause, a purpose, to make a difference in the world. Even though they worry about the weak economy, high rates of unemployment, student debt, and even expectations from parents, they simply desire to offer their hearts in service to real people.

Brother Andre simply gave his heart to God. Even though he was illiterate and sickly he chose to listen to the worries of the sick. Even though the Congregation of Holy Cross hesitated to accept Brother Andre, he was always obedient to his superiors. Brother Andre was determined to dedicate his daily life to Saint Joseph, the patron of Canada and the Brothers of Holy Cross. Brother Andre’s compassionate heart was fashioned from his own suffering and his faith strengthened from receiving people on the margins of society.

Brother Andre invited people into prayer as they lined up to speak with him. He envisioned a chapel where people could come in pilgrimage to Saint Joseph and to pray in gratitude to God. On October 19, 1904, the first chapel was officially opened. Because of the large number of people streaming to the chapel for prayer, worship and healing, a new, larger chapel was built by November of 1908. Then in 1914, the Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross granted permission for Saint Joseph’s Oratory to be built. The construction took many years and was only completed after Brother Andre’s death.

Saint Joseph’s Oratory stands today in Montreal as a beacon of love and healing for many people. The prayerful setting welcomes thousands of visitors and pilgrims each year. This place of prayer reminds everyone of Brother Andre’s complete dedication to God. Today, Brother Andre’s physical heart is on display at the Oratory. This French custom reminds us that Brother Andre literally gave his heart to the mission of God’s work, to people in need of spiritual, emotional and physical healing.

The students in our daily hospitality center remind me to offer my own prayer and work for the purpose of God’s people. Brother Andre’s story shows us that our searching must rest in God’s love for people in need of hospitality, healing and hope. In faith, we shall all discover our heart’s desire.

Photo: Steve Scardina, (Brother Andre’s heart at Saint Joseph Oratory in Montreal)

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