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My Encounter with Brother André

Mary Rose Bacani Valenti

Monday, November 8, 2010

A week ago, Canada celebrated the canonization of Br. André Bessette at the Olympic stadium in Montreal.  It’s been an exciting time for the Church in Canada!  My time working on all things Br. André has now come to an end (I think, but who knows what the future always holds), so I wanted to share a post-Br. André reflection with you.  Below is the article I wrote that will be published in CHOICES, an important communications tool for Holy Cross vocation outreach for the Indiana Province.
In late April, 2010, at the time I was asked to work on a documentary on the life and legacy of Brother André Bessette, all I knew of the Holy Cross religious was that he built Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.
Barely six months later, our team at Salt + Light Television had finished two documentaries on Br. André, hosted and aired the live coverage of his Canonization Mass on October 17th, and devoted entire episodes of several programs to Br. André.
After six months of living and breathing Br. André, I can say this much:  what I know of the mind and heart of Br. André comes from the members and affiliates of Holy Cross whom I met.
Br. Fernand Bessette is a distant relative of Br. André and a brother of the Canadian Province for the Congregation of Holy Cross.  He taught me that what Br. André adds to the mission of Holy Cross is compassion, a heart that is open to others.  And a heart that is open to others listens to the suffering of others and carries that suffering with them.  In a sense, Br. André has a message that is so important for us who live in a technological age of efficiency today.  Sometimes, the best way to be there for people is the old-fashioned way of physically being with them and listening.  Br. Fernand opened to me the significance of the Holy Cross motto, “Hail the Cross, our only Hope”.  The motto of Holy Cross is to love with Christ’s love, which is a sacrificial love.  Br. Fernand talked about how Br. André would do his Way of the Cross in two ways – the devotion itself and the mission.  Br. André did his Way of the Cross whenever he listened to people’s sufferings and embraced their crosses with them.
In addition to filming in Montreal, I visited three places in the United States during the course of the production:  Portland, Oregon; Notre Dame, Indiana; and Manchester, New Hampshire.  In all three, I learned an important lesson about education.  First of all, Br. André, a man with very little education, is being held up by Holy Cross as a role model for educators in the faith.  How can that be?  Fr. Edwin Obermiller of the Indiana Province for the Congregation of Holy Cross said something very profound:  “Br. André never had a formal education.... he had many blessings that were given to him in his personality, his humility, his prayer.  It allowed him to be able to teach, no better than any of our Holy Cross religious who have a PhD.”  The other priests, sisters, and lay collaborators of Holy Cross I talked to in the United States say the same things when it comes to education.  Sr. Carol Descoteaux, Former Regional Leader of the Sisters of Holy Cross in the US Region, says, with tears in her eyes, “I’m university-schooled, I have a Doctorate in Theology, and yet I look to Br. André to inspire me at the level of the heart.”  It is truly wonderful to see how Br. André reminds a society that values credentials above the human person, that all you really need is who you are to make an impact.  You just need to surrender all you are and all you have to God, and he will make of your life a miracle.
St. André, pray for us!
Under the direction of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt + Light, Mary Rose spearheaded the production of God’s Doorkeeper, a documentary on the life and legacy of Br. André. For more information on the documentary or to purchase a copy, visit
For more Salt + Light material on Br. André:
  • The Canonization of Brother André Bessette - English coverage of the canonization of Br. André, first male Canadian-born saint.
  • Montreal Celebrates St. André - English overage of the Commemorative Mass at the Olympic stadium on October 30th, on the occasion of the canonization of Br. André.
  • Remembering Brother André - Catholic Focus episode highlighting the pilgrims who go to Saint Joseph’s Oratory, and stories about Br. André in southwestern Ontario and different parts of the United States.

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