Brother André, born Alfred Bessette, entered the seminary in Montréal in 1870. A dedicated religious man, he was first appointed to the position of porter of the city’s Notre-Dame College. Before long, he became well-known throughout the Roman Catholic community for his caring attitude.

In 1904, he built a small chapel near the college where he could receive those in need encouraging them to pray to St. Joseph. Brother Andrew believe that St. Joseph would hear their pleas and address their illnesses and pain. Out growing the little chapel, Brother Andrew built a larger church – called a crypt which was built in 1917. It seated 1,000.

Again, the Crypt became too small to hold the increasing crowd. In 1924, the construction of the basilica commenced and was finished in 1967. Brother André requested that the basilica be named for St. Joseph.  Visitors must climb more than 280 steps to get to the basilica’s main entrance.  The basilica can seat about 3,000 people and holiday services at the basilica often hold that many and more.

The remains of Bessette lie in the church he helped build. His body lies in a tomb built below the Oratory’s Main Chapel, except for his heart, which is preserved in a reliquary in the same Oratory. The heart was stolen in March 1973, but recovered in December 1974.   Really who steals a heart???

My experience there was one of awe.  To see the crowds appear and leave letters of hope and fall upon his tomb in prayer was something that left me wondering if my belief system was somewhat thwarted.  It left me wanting  something to believe in as much as they believed in him.


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