FOLLOW-UP

Quebec’s miracle worker

DAN BURKE December 8 1986
FOLLOW-UP

Quebec’s miracle worker

DAN BURKE December 8 1986

Quebec’s miracle worker

FOLLOW-UP

Just before dawn on Nov. 1, a candlelit procession of 2,000 costumed movie extras climbed a dirt road outside Mont-St-Hilaire, Que., to a small chapel that set designers had constructed on a wooded slope. There, the solemn crowd re-enacted a 1910 prayer tribute originally held on Mon-

treal’s Mont Royal for Brother André, the turn-of-the-century French Canadian who was venerated for his ability to cure the crippled and diseased. The scene was part of a $2.4-million feature film currently being made about Brother André’s life. The tribute will add to a rich legacy that already in-

eludes Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory, the massive, domed landmark on Mont Royal constructed under Brother André’s supervision on the site of his original chapel. Declared Pierre Valcour, producer of the film, which will be released next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roman Catholic brother’s death: “Brother André is to religion in Quebec what Maurice Richard was to hockey—the habitant who became a superhero.”

In fact, Brother André, born in 1845 in St-Grégoire, Que., 30 km southeast of Montreal, is a leading candidate to become Canada’s first native-born saint. In 1982 Pope John Paul lí presided over his ceremony of beatification—the stage before canonization, which includes church verification of three miracles attributed to the individual since his death—in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square. So strong was the brother’s reputation that the Vatican waived a rule postponing beatification until 50 years after death. But Brother André’s postulators—church members arguing the case for his canonizationmust now prove to the Vatican that a post-beatification miracle has occurred. Also facing that challenge are Montreal’s Grey Nuns, whose founder, Marguerite d’Youville, was beatified in 1959. Declared Brother André’s Montreal-based vice-postulator, Rev. Bernard Lafrenière: “It will be the Lord’s task to deliver the right case.”

But public faith in Brother André remains strong. Every year more than two million people visit St. Joseph’s Oratory, where Brother André’s body rests in a black marble tomb. Also on display are hundreds of crutches, braces and canes left behind by people he allegedly cured. Still, early in his career some critics denounced the brother as a charlatan. And one doctor questioned the propriety of his methods: massaging the infirm—both male and female—with vegetable oil heated by a lamp that burned before a statue of St. Joseph. That doctor was converted when Brother André reportedly cured his wife of a constant nosebleed.

Such phenomena continued after Brother André’s death. In one 1940 case verified by the church, a woman recovered from a disabling ear disorder as she pleaded for relief near Brother André’s tomb. Lafrenière says that he receives letters almost every day claiming that the brother has brought about miraculous changes in their lives, from new jobs to cures. “I’m not sure we have the case that’s needed at present,” said the priest. And he added, “It could take two years—it could take 25 years.”

— DAN BURKE in Montreal