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God’s Doorman documentary

On January 6, 1937, the death of a humble doorman for a boys’ college drew over a million people to Montreal. For 40 years, Brother André Bessette of the Congregation of Holy Cross welcomed people at the door and became known as a miraculous healer.

God’s doorman – produced by Salt + Light TV – looks at the heart and legacy of Brother André — as a man of prayer, of hospitality, and of compassion; a man who draws people in to experience a God who is love.

Montreal’s Porter and Heaven’s Gatekeeper

by Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte

On February 19, we received news from Rome confirming the canonization of our very own Blessed Brother André. The founder of Saint Joseph’s Oratory will be the second Canadian to be canonized by the Church, in the good company of Marguerite d’Youville. Like the brother’s own legacy and impact, reverberations of the canonization will be felt at the local, national and universal level.

Though simple and humble, Brother André accomplished great things in and through his faith, reaching countless people then and now. I have a great admiration for this holy man who is truly a saint and inspiration for everyday people. For more than 100 years, he has left an indelible mark on the city of Montreal and our Mount Royal by building what has become the largest church in the Archdiocese of Montreal and the largest shrine dedicated to St. Joseph in the world.

His story has a lot to teach us. It begins in 1845, amidst a humble and poor family. At nine, he loses his father and three years later his mother. His family disperses. He is so weak and frail that even those closest to him fear for his life. To earn a living, he commits himself to several jobs in both Canada and the United States. Finally, he petitions the Congregation of Holy Cross to accept him, which they do reluctantly due to his frailty and poor health. With little prospect for success or impact, the young Bessette is relegated to the role of doorman at Collège Notre Dame in Montreal.

Embracing his role, André now connects regularly with students, parents and various other people, many of whom leave him with prayer requests and special intentions. His response is direct and simple: entrust your prayers to Saint Joseph.

After his daily dinner, André makes it a point to visit the sick. Soon enough, thanks to a growing reputation for generosity and compassion, the sick begin to flock to Collège Notre Dame to meet the porter. It doesn’t take long for people to begin bearing witness to and publicly sharing stories of powerful graces and healings resulting from Brother André.

For some twenty five years, Brother André will receive visitors from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in his tiny streetcar office across from the college. With the help of many friends, André succeeds, in 1904, in building the first chapel on the field across from the college. With a growing reputation and number of visitors, his ministry quickly outgrows the scale and size of the chapel. The only solution is to expand the chapel, for the first time in 1908 and again in 1910. Still, the size of the chapel cannot match the growth in demand. The solution is clear: an even greater shrine to Saint Joseph.

In 1917, work is completed on a crypt accommodating one thousand faithful. In 1924, workers begin construction on a basilica. Twelve years later in 1936, due to the stock market crash and the Great Depression, many consider abandoning the project. The Provincial of his order summons Brother André to receive his opinion. In front of a full audience, the then 91 year-old brother remarks, “It is not my work, but that of Saint Joseph. Place then one of his statues in the middle of the partially-constructed shrine. If he wishes to be covered, he’ll take care of it.” Two months later, the community secures sufficient funding to resume work. Brother André dies only a few months later. The entire city mourns. Nearly a million people – ordinary citizens as well as leaders of society – queue up to pay their respects to him in the crypt.

Uneasy with his growing reputation while alive, Brother André’s fame multiplied upon his death in 1937 and has not stopped since. In him people saw, see and will continue to see a man close to God. His life was devoted to prayer and compassion for others, especially those who suffer. “He was like us/them” was often heard, in reference to his empathy and love for everyday people and their everyday struggles. In 1978, the Church declared him venerable, and then blessed in 1982. Finally, this October 17, his legacy will reach the summit of the Church’s process of holiness.

For the benefit of the universal Church and all persons devoted to Brother André, the Brothers of Holy Cross and we in the Archdiocese of Montreal will hold a special celebration at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on October 30, during which we will give thanks for Brother André and his countless blessings. Come and celebrate with us: God’s loving doorman awaits us all.