The Little Brother and the Big Saint

A doorkeeper with a great faith caused a huge Basilica to honor St. Joseph to be built!


At 25 Alfred Bessette applied to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross but was refused due to poor health, but when he gained the backing of the bishop, he was accepted. He could not even read or write.

He was appointed doorkeeper (porter) at Notre Dame  college in Montreal. He would serve as sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. But he also spent much of each night in prayer. On his windowsill, facing Mount Royal, was a small statue of Saint Joseph, to whom Andre was especially devoted. "Some day," he believed, "Saint Joseph will be honored on Mount Royal."

Andre had a special ministry to the sick. He would rub the person with oil from a lamp in front of the statue of St. Joseph and many were healed. Word of his power spread, and when an epidemic broke out Andre volunteered to help; no one died. The trickle of the sick seeking aid coming to his door became a flood. His superiors were uneasy; diocesan authorities were suspicious; doctors called him a quack. "I do not cure," he always said. "Saint Joseph cures." By his death, he was receiving 80,000 letters each year from the sick who sought his prayers and healing.

For many years the Holy Cross authorities had tried to buy land on Mount Royal. Brother Andre and others climbed the steep hill and planted medals of Saint Joseph on it, and soon after, the owners yielded, which incident helped the current devotion to Saint Joseph by those looking to buy or sell a home. From a small chapel, the large basilica began to be built. The little humble brother did not live to see it completed. It now dominates the skyline of Montreal.

The epitaph on his gravestone sums up his life:

Pauper. servis et humilis.
A poor and humble servant.

Bro. Andre died on January 6, 1937. His burial had to be postponed for several days until the last of more than three million people were able to pass by his bier and pay him homage. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 23, 1982. May his canonization be soon!



O Lord our God, friend of the lowly, you gave your servant, Brother Andre, a great devotion to St. Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted. Through his intercession help us to follow his example of prayer and love and so come to share with him in your glory.

st joseph

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage