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Who knows the road down which Fall Break leads?

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, October 14, 2010

I spent Fall Break of my senior year studying for the LSAT’s. What a waste.

Not a waste in that I would have preferred Florida with my friends, though this was certainly true. But a waste in the sense that: 1) my Fall Break activity successfully got me enrolled in law school, and 2) I spent precisely one month there before running out the back door, confused, depressed and completely lost. And all that good beach time lost forever.

This utterly wasted week of my life is just one of the reasons I am so captivated by the odd story of the little man who will be canonized this weekend in Rome as the first Holy Cross saint — Brother André Bessette. He’s one of the few people I’ve discovered who scripted his life worse then me.

If our vocation is the “call” God has for each one of us, the plan for our life, then God, it would seem, needs a new communications director. Hardly anyone hears it right on the first try. Certainly, I did not (nor, frankly, on the second or third try either … ) Certainly, and consolingly, Brother André did not, nor did those trying to guide him on his way. To wit: André was so sickly when he was born that his parents had him baptized immediately, fearing he would not survive the night. It was an opening act of stark poetic justice, presaging the constant underestimation of the power of this physically under-developed man. (André would never top five feet, was constantly sick, yet would live to the age of 91.) Even more telling, entrusted so quickly into the hands of God, André’s immediate post-birth baptism would be a telling beginning to a life that, even while constantly hanging by a thread, was marked by both a total dependence on God, and absolutely prodigious accomplishments.

Still, if this was the introduction to the world of “The Miracle Man of Montreal,” as he is now known in the central city square there that bears his name, and at St. Joseph’s Oratory, André’s “chapel” in honor of his hero, which has become the second largest church in North America (behind only Our Lady of Guadalupe), nothing about his birth remotely suggested it. Nor did much of what followed.

André was orphaned at 12, and unschooled and illiterate, followed the only path that seemed to open before him and much of the rest of rural French-Canada in those years — a move to the urban centers in search of industrial employment. Then, somewhere in the midst of being helplessly swept along these socio-economic tides, André — sick, overwhelmed, confused — somehow believed himself to have been called by God.

But … to do what? Lacking the education needed for priesthood, and chronically sickly, André was first rejected, then barely accepted, by the Congregation of Holy Cross, which was justifiably worried that André was unfit to perform even menial tasks in service to the order’s ministries. Then, inexplicably, assigned to the potentially stultifying task of college porter, André’s life suddenly caught fire. The sick came to him and were healed. The unemployed spoke with him, and left encouraged. André’s chapel to St. Joseph began to fill with crutches and wheelchairs left by the newly cured. The church began to grow through donations from the newly employed. André, apparently, was in the precise place God needed him — which utterly unpredictably was the front gate of College Notre Dame as the doorman. My own life having taken so many unpredictable and at-the-time apparently fruitless turns, this is the story of my kind of saint.

Eleven years ago, 62 years after André’s death, a 9-year-old boy was removed from a smashed car outside Montreal, with a severe cranial injury and in an irreversible coma. He was brought back to life after his family entrusted him to the prayers of Brother André. The young man today is a healthy university student, two adjectives which, ironically, lay permanently beyond the reach of André himself. The boy’s healing is the miracle, accepted by the Vatican, that made André a saint. André’s dogged persistence in a life of apparent dead-ends, his refusal to unclasp his hands or his heart from the belief that God was powerfully at work in his apparently unremarkable labors, is what makes him a model for those of us still searching.

God’s call in our lives is rarely a clarion summons, or an obvious path that rolls out smoothly ahead of us. The script of how our lives will unfold with deep meaning, purpose, love and productivity is not likely to be handed to us during Fall Break, or any other week. Faith, persistence, hope in God’s Providential guidance, especially when a clear way is not apparent — these are some of the lessons of Brother André for us on the eve of his canonization, and the eve of our next life decisions.


This week’s column is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, Campus Ministry director of Bible Studies and ACE director of Pastoral Life. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.