The Day Brother Andre Bessett & Father Solanus Casey, Two Future Modern Day Saints Met

In the Early and Medieval Church future saints seemed to often cross paths. However in our day and age this is a rarity. On a sunny Detroit afternoon in the summer of 1935 two potential saints did just that.  If they lived today they would stand out like sore thumbs, two men belittled by some of their superiors who took no umbrage and continued on with their duties. In today’s world someone who chose the same path would be looked at as if they had written kick me on their backsides. After all this is the age, when our popular culture demands that any slight be met with a meltdown or protest, the louder the better. However, (Venerable) Father Solanus Casey OFM and (Blessed) Brother Andre Bessette CSC were holy men. Brother Andre will be made a saint October 17 (or is already a saint depending upon what day you read this.) Perhaps in his humble way Father Solanus Casey will be gently nipping at his heels.

Alfred Bessette (he would take the name Andre when he was ordained) was born in 1845 to a large Quebec family. Sadly for young Alfred, he would lose both parents by age 11 and would spend the rest of his childhood raised by an older sister. Twenty five years later, and several hundred miles west, Barney Casey (he took the name Solanus when he was ordained) was also born to a large family, in rural Wisconsin. He was the eldest of 16 children. His childhood was filled with hard family farm work, while at the same time that work was done under the umbrella of a faith filled home, where the Church was the glue that held the family together through tough times.

Both the young Casey and Bessette toiled at many jobs, ranging from farm labor to lumberjacks. While many were not surprised at their eventual vocation, both men carefully discerned their calling and concluded they were called to Holy Orders. Their lives wouldn’t be any easier once they were seminarians, or even after they were ordained. Ironically both men for many years worked as door men and porters, helping those who were visitors at their respective religious orders’ seminaries and monasteries.

As time went on, many began to come back just to speak with both Father Casey and Brother Andre. They and those who had heard second hand of miraculous healings wanted to know more, or perhaps ask for prayers concerning their own maladies. Even as both men’s reputations grew their station did not. For his entire priesthood, Father Casey would be a simplex priest (that is a priest who celebrates Mass but does give the homily or hear confessions.)

Both men worked long days as many came to see them at all hours with tales of woe. Eventually the Holy Cross Fathers in Montreal built a chapel for Brother Andre on one of Montreal’s highest locations. They had hoped the thousands who came would be deterred by the rugged climb. They were not and many more thousands came each and every year.  Both Brother Andre and Father Casey never protested the long hours or the treatment they received from some of their superiors. They continued to heal and obey; a lesson that seems lost on today’s modern world.

We all know of spoiled professional athletes, actors, actresses, musicians etc. Many of us on sites like this rightfully comment about the ridiculous antics of Church dissidents and those who encourage them. However, is our behavior as exemplary as it should be? Sometimes it is easy for us to point the finger at the elites and say I am glad I am not like them. Jesus reprimanded a man who thought the same way.

Perhaps we should look at ourselves. How many of us have ranted and raved if we didn’t get the corner office when we felt we had earned it? How many of us complain when friends have slighted us (real or imagined?) Is it any wonder that our western society is in such need of counselors, therapists and psychiatrists? By all accounts in most major cities, they can never have enough of them.

If ever two people had the right to complain about their treatment it was certainly Father Solanus Casey and Brother Andre. They literally put their religious orders on the map (at least in North America) with attention, interest and vocations. Yet, how were they repaid? Sadly, with long hours and the knowledge that some of their superiors didn’t think enough of them to give them a higher station, and in Father Casey’s case, not being allowed to give a homily or hear confessions.

I am probably not alone in thinking that surely Father Casey couldn’t have been any worse than some homilists or confessors I have heard. In addition, Brother Andre and Father Casey’s assignments were that of a novice or a priest who needed disciplined, not someone who literally worked miracles. (If this last paragraph intrigues you may want to read my book, The Tide Is Turning Toward Catholicism. You may also enjoy the following articles; If You Want The Political Left To Run Governments, Look At What The Religious Left Had Done To Religion (Left It In Tatters.) along with The Coming Open Rebellion Against God, as well as (The Jesus the Professional Left Chose To Ignore.)

In our modern world of overhyped events with video coverage of seemingly every event, the newsworthy and the forgettable, there was no film footage or even still photo shots of the two future saints meeting on that sunny, 1935 summer day in Detroit.  We can only visualize the brief meeting at the Saint Bonaventure Monastery, which was probably done with such little fanfare, that passersby would have failed to grasp the significance of the event.

Father Solanus Casey was 65, while Brother Andre was 90. Brother Andre had heard of Father Solanus Casey and while he was visiting the monastery inquired about Father Casey’s whereabouts. The two men met but were unable to engage in conversation as Father Casey knew no French and Brother Andre know no English. However, they did the only thing they could do in one language; they blessed each other in Latin, the language of the Church.

Their brief meeting over both returned to his work, though for Brother Andre his work would continue for less than two years. He died in Montreal in January of 1937. Father Casey would continue his work for some 20 years. Both men had funerals that would today be called epic. Not only were they remembered by the thousands who attributed the healing to their prayer, but the many thousands and in  Brother Andre’s case the nearly one million who became quite familiar with the stories. Not only were extra trains added by the Canadian rail authorities, but even in the US, especially the Northeast extra cars were added to accommodate the mourners headed to Montreal for Brother Andre’s funeral.

(On a personal note, I have been fortunate to have visited the St Joseph Oratory in Montreal visiting the site where Brother Andre’s prayers helped so many. In addition, while speaking in the Detroit area, I was invited to meet those who gathered the data and testimony for Father Casey’s cause. As with most causes for beatification and canonization, there exists documentation of so many apparent miracles, the hard part is sifting through each to find the most extraordinary. Both visits left me humbled to have met those who actually knew these men, as well as in awe of God’s graces which are often extended to those the world would deem not worthy.)

Both men came into this world with little fanfare, and despite their healing gifts they would continue living that way their entire lives. However, because of their humility God gave them a gift that the richest among us would be envious of having, the gift of healing. Because of this,  they may have taught us all that humility and obedience, while frowned upon in the go-go world of the 21st century, is one of God’s greatest joys. (This article barely scratches the surface on the lives of these two holy men. For more on the life of (Blessed) Brother Andre and (Venerable) Father Casey, you may want to read the following books;  Brother Andre, Friend of the Suffering, Apostle of Saint Joseph, as well as The Story of Solanus Casey and this book written by a fellow Capuchin entitled; Meet Solanus Casey Spiritual Conselor & Wonderworker. Finally there is a book on both men entitled; God’s Doorkeepers.

Dave Hartline

18 Responses to The Day Brother Andre Bessett & Father Solanus Casey, Two Future Modern Day Saints Met

  1. Elaine Krewer says:

    Great post. I have a copy of an older (mid-60s) book about Father Solanus called “The Porter of St. Bonaventure’s”. It contains numerous testimonials from persons who knew him and from people who experienced miraculous healings, conversions, etc. after he prayed for them.

    Up until the early 20th century when Fr. Solanus was ordained, it was more common for seminarians who didn’t pass all their classes or who showed some other sign of intellectual deficiency to be ordained “simplex” priests permitted only to say Mass, and not to preach or hear confessions. Sometimes they were granted faculties later, sometimes they never were.

    If I’m not mistaken, St. John Vianney himself started out as a simplex priest and was only granted faculties to preach and hear confessions because the local bishop was really, really desperate to find a pastor in Ars.

    Fr. Solanus’ main problem seems to have been slowness or difficulty in learning Latin. Were he entering the priesthood today he’d probably pass seminary with flying colors. (Assuming, of course, that it was a well-run, orthodox seminary)

  2. T. Shaw says:

    Thank you!

    Of the many blessings I have received, today I recall my visit to St Josephs Oratory atop Mount Royale in Montreal.

    I could sense the holiness of the site. And, the crutches and canes that testify to the miraculous healings!

    “Bless the Lord God on every occasion.”

    Faith, Hope and Love. Moderation in all things except virue.

  3. john laperuta says:

    I too had the same book The Porter of St.Bonaventures…I lent it to someoen and never got it back..the life of Father Solanus Casey has always fascinated me..I hope and pray that he will be raised to the sainthood someday,he certainly deserves it.I also hope someone in the film industry(not Hollywood)may consider making a film based on his life and work..may God bless these two holy souls and may many more come to know them and be inspired by them..especially priests.

  4. Jo says:

    Praise be Jesus, God sends us such great Saints. I remember being blessed by someone who had the Oil of Bl. Solanus and it was a very powerful moment.
    Thand you for this very moving article.

  5. lisag says:

    This was inspiring, because today the elites make fun of or ridicule people who tell simple truths. Today’s youth are bombarded by the message they need to sing, dance, model, or be a sports star. All in a vulgar, provocative way. They are given names of inanimate objects or names of ideals often spelled in gross phonetics. Where are the Marys, Annes, Josephs or Marks? The Catholic schools should bring back study of the saints. Students should know the life of the saint their school is named after.

  6. Bro. Augustine says:

    What a great comparison bewtween two wonderful men. The work of porter seems to be a means toward sanctification of a number of saints throughout history. St. Conrad of Parsham, and Ven. Jordan Mai to mention two.
    One correction if I may. The religious names ie., “Andre” and “Solanus” were taken when these men received the habit of their orders, not when they were “ordained”. Bro. Andre was never ordained. He was a religious brother and professed religious vows.

  7. Barb Finnegan says:

    Great article, though I have a rather big quibble terminology-wise: Saint Andre was NOT ‘ORDAINED’; he received his ‘religious name’ of Andre when he was received into the novitiate of Holy Cross. And he was ‘PROFESSED’! ‘Ordination’ and “Profession of Vows’ are two different things. So could you fix the terminology in the article?

    On a ‘nicer’ note, I’ve read four books on St. Andre: ‘The Wonder Man of Montreal’, by Father Paul-Henri Bergeron; ‘The Miracle of the Mountain’, by Alden Hatch; ‘Blessed Brother Andre’, by C. Bernard Ruffin; and ‘Brother Andre According to the Witnesses’, by Father Bernard LaFreniere. I’ve also been to St. Joseph’s Oratory four times in my life (1972, 1974, 1975 and 1994). Loved the place-and I’m so happy that I have lived to see Brother Andre CANONIZED A SAINT! WOO HOO!

  8. Two Cents Worth says:

    Dave, great post on Father Solanus and Brother Andre! From time to time I read your great posts on Church and secular matters and always enjoy them. I miss your site and think about the times we had the honor of defending God, Church and our beautiful Catholic faith! God bless you and your family.

  9. Sharon Miller says:

    I have been blesssed to have read numerous books on Fr. Solanus Casey after first hearing about him through the owner of Diocesan Publications, a national Church Bulletin Company- Mr. Robert Zelke. Mr. Zelke’s parents were unable to conceive a child for years. They went to Fr. Solanus Casey for prayers and shortly thereafter, Mr. Robert Zelke was conceived. The books on Fr. Solanus Casey explained that his seminarian education was in German- a German speaking seminary in Wisconsin. That was the major difficulty in his education. “HIS CHARISM IS: THANK GOD AHEAD OF TIME!” The faithful would come to him filled with prayer requests, and Fr. Solanus would ask them: “What will you do to thank God ahead of time for your healing!” He was asking them to display TRUST in God before the healing, as it was GOD WHO WAS THE HEALER.

    I was later blessed to make a 19 hour drive to visit St. Josephs Oratory and Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal with my sister. We could only stay over one night, but the 19 hour drive each way was nothing compared to the spiritual graces and blessings received.

  10. Reto says:

    I love the topic of this article. I used to draw some of these same parallels between these two men of God when I was a tour guide at the shrine Saint Brother Andre founded.

    But I’m rather disappointed in the lack of proper research done. This article is peppered with factual mistakes: Bessette is spelt with an ‘e’; Brother Andre was never ordained nor did he feel called to holy orders because he was a brother; he lost his parents by the time he was 12, not 11; his sister didn’t raise him, his aunt & uncle Nadeau did; brother Andre could speak some English since he had worked in New England for a few years before joining Holy Cross. Thank you.

  11. Dave Hartline says:

    Just a note about a couple of posts asserting that I made a mistake in my research. First of all I do apologize for leaving out the e in Bessette (in the title of the article) It was my mistake for which I apologize. However, I can’t correct it otherwise it would throw the entire web address off and the link would be unavailable. The other points brought up are all conjecture. Some biographies say Saint Andre was raised by his sister, others by an aunt. With regard to his knowledge of English; some believe he might have known some English working in New England. However, most believe that since he was working with others from Quebec, he may never have had to use any English. Every account I have read states that when Brother Andre met with Father Casey, Brother Andre knew no English and Father Casey knew no French, so they simply blessed each other and moved along. Thank you.

  12. Barb Finnegan says:

    There was something similar in another meeting between St. Andre and Blessed Father Frederic Jansoone (spelling?) when the Brother made a visit to Ste-Anne-de Beaupre. Father Frederic was a Franciscan priest from northeastern France who worked in the Holy Land and lived at Three Rivers (Trois-Rivieres in French), near the Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape. Father Frederic knelt before Brother Andre and asked for his blessing. Brother knelt in turn and said, ‘No, Pere Frederic-it is for you to bless me.’ Father Clement, an early chaplain of St. Joseph’s Oratory whose eye ailment was cured by St. Andre, found the two of them kneeling face to face.
    With regards to Brother Andre and the English language: I read in C. Bernard Ruffin’s book that he was able to switch to a passable English when speaking with visitors from English-speaking Canada and the United States. Else how he speak with the people who came from outside Quebec province?

  13. Helen Mcahon says:

    Yes, Brother Andre spoke English!
    Society of St. Pius X in Canada
    January – March 2004, No. 18

    Those Who Truly Live, The Saints
    The Miracle Man of Montreal
    Blessed Brother Andre
    {1845 – 1937}

    By Mr. Roger Zielke

    “In 1863, when Alfred was eighteen, he joined the many French Canadians going to work in factories in the United States. Because of the American Civil War, factories in New England needed all the help they could get, to feed and equip huge federal armies. French Canadians could work wherever they were needed and went from one town to another, as new factories were opened and higher wages were offered. Alfred ended up in Connecticut and worked in a few towns there, but from time to time he was forced to leave his work at the factories due to poor health, and take up lighter farm work. Between 1863 and 1867, he learned to speak English, which would be a great asset in his later years.”

  14. richard ,andre says:

    My parents met Brother Andre in Springfield ,Mass.Many people are related to him in New England.I myself was brought to St Joseph`s Oratory as a baby for a blessing,as most young infants were at the time.This was 1943,of course.But people had great faith in St. Joseph.I once studied for priesthood as a young man,I wasn`t that great a speaker and knowledge of latin. If I had known of a Simplex Priesthood,I might of stayed in the order.But my faith is much stronger now,anyways.Michael we were at your retreat in CT. Great day of reflecting our faith. Peace,Richard

  15. Joseph Quinlan says:

    I didn’t read all comments to see if anyone else posted this. Just wanted to mention that technically it’s Solanus Casey OFM Cap. He was a Capuchin, not an OFM.

  16. S.P. says:

    A couple of other “saints” in modern years who’ve crossed paths … Karol Wotyla (when a young bishop I believe) visiting Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotundo and being told one day he would be Pope (and a couple years later requesting prayers from (Saint) Padre Pio for a lady who had cancer and then was healed miraculously. Then (Ven.) Pope John Paul II who had a deep friendship with Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and met on several occasions.

  17. antonio says:

    If there was a time i would have liked to have been a fly on the wall, this would have been it.

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