"Come, follow me."

It was Fr. André Provençal, pastor of Saint Césaire Parish, who guided Alfred to join the Congregation of Holy Cross. As a pastor he had a commercial school for boys built which he staffed with six Holy Cross brothers which at that time were called the Josephites. Alfred came into contact with the brothers while doing odd jobs for the Church and decided to join the Congregation.

In October 1870 Father Provençal wrote a letter of recommendation to Fr. Julien Gastineau, the novice master in which he prophetically stated, "I am sending a saint to your community". With this letter in hand, Alfred traveled to Montreal and presented himself to the novice master at a rambling white wooden house called Hôtel Bellevue at Côte-des-Neiges, working class neighborhood of Montreal on the western slope of Mount Royal. This hotel dancing floor had been converted into a chapel and this 60 foot long building served both as a novitiate and as a boarding school for boys. It began with 25 boys.

Thus began Alfred's trial period of several weeks to see if he was suited for religious life. His daily life consisted of prayers and various cleaning jobs in the building. The actual novitiate period began with a simple ceremony during which the priest presiding addressed Alfred as follows, "Alfred Bessette, henceforth you will call yourself Brother André". He chose the name André in gratitude to Father André Provençal, his spiritual father and protector. During the year of novitiate he experienced spells of sickness during which sometimes he coughed up blood. As a consequence the provincial council meeting of Jan. 8, 1872 decided that that Brother André was not to be admitted to temporary vows. Brother André was utterly crushed when he heard this. However, he was allowed to continue as a novice.

It so happened in God's providence in 1872 that Bishop Ignace Bourget, bishop of Montreal, visited the religious community at Notre-Dame. Brother André overcame his his timidity and went to see the Bishop in his room. Brother André describes the scene,

"Bishop Bourgert looked at me with great kindness and said, 'What do you want, my son?' I knelt at his feet and rested by clasped hands on his knees, looking at him with great confidence, Bishop Bourget talked to me like a father."

The bishop was moved as André described his love of God and his disappointment. With tears in his eyes he told the bishop, "My only ambition is to serve God in the most humble tasks". The bishop replied, "Do not fear, my son, you will be admitted to the religious profession".

Finally on August 22, 1872 Brother Andre vowed for one year poverty, chastity and obedience. To the very end Father Amédéé Guy, the master of novices, had his doubts concerning André and justified his decision by declaring, "If this young man becomes incapable of working, he will at least be able to pray well."

(Reference for the above facts and quotes: Laurent Boucher, CSC, Brother Andre, Ch. 5)

 

5. Brother André the Porter