GO TO JOSEPH
Centers of devotion to St. Joseph around the world draw Knights for prayer and pilgrimage
Hope of the Sick
Knights in Canada and beyond come to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montréal to pray for healing and peace
By Francis Denis
For more than a century, Knights of Columbus have been making pilgrimages to St. Joseph’s Oratory, the largest church in Canada and the world’s largest shrine dedicated to St. Joseph. Located on Mount Royal, the highest point in Montréal, the shrine was founded in 1904 by St. André Bessette, a humble Holy Cross brother who, in 2010, became Canada’s first male saint.
Brother André, born Alfred Bessette in 1845, developed a deep devotion to St. Joseph from a young age. He entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross in December 1870 and served as the doorman of Montréal’s Notre-Dame College. There, he received many visitors, including many sick people seeking solace and aid. Brother André, who himself suffered from poor health throughout his life, would pray with them and anoint them with oil from a lamp burning before a statue of St. Joseph in the college chapel. News of his healing touch spread as people began to recover.
“Nothing that I do in the cures comes from me,” Brother André once said. “Everything comes from St. Joseph, who obtains these extraordinary graces from God. I am nothing more than a lowly instrument.”
In thanksgiving for the many favors obtained through St. Joseph’s intercession, Brother André formed a plan to build an oratory in his honor. The gifts Brother André received from many of his grateful visitors allowed him to erect a wooden chapel on Mount Royal in 1904. After construction on the Crypt Church began in 1915, Knights and other pilgrims began coming in large numbers.
Many people today, such as Thomas Altenburg, grand knight of Montréal Council 284 (Canada’s first council), are drawn to the shrine by devotion not only to St. Joseph but also to Brother André.
“I’ve developed a great friendship with Brother André, in part because I’m an eyewitness of miracles he still performs today,” said Altenburg. For nearly 20 years, Altenburg has worked directly with people suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction, and he often accompanies them to the shrine.
“Such visits allow them to reconnect with the loving presence of God, from whom they have sometimes drifted away,” he said. “The most surprising thing is that I’m often not the one who suggests we go to the oratory — they do it on their own accord.”
What remains perhaps the Knights’ largest and most significant pilgrimage to the shrine took place 100 years ago, during a year consecrated to St. Joseph called for by Pope Benedict XV in 1921. Thousands of Knights and their families, including Supreme Knight James Flaherty, traveled to the Oratory, where they also met with Brother André, then 76 years old. Another large contingent of Knights visited two years later, when the Supreme Convention was hosted in Montréal.
Though Brother André died on Jan. 6, 1937, his life’s dream came to fruition when the massive oratory was finally completed in 1967.
Following Brother Andre’s canonization in 2010, then-State Deputy Pierre Beaucage of Québec, who was present in Rome for the occasion, was inspired to organize an official K of C presence every year at the Oratory on St. Brother André’s feast day, celebrated in Canada on Jan. 7. Beginning in 2012, hundreds of Knights have participated in the annual Mass.
Though COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for Knights to gather together in large numbers in 2021, State Deputy Richard Paratte of Québec is hopeful that the feast day Mass next month will take place.
“We are praying to St. Joseph, Hope of the Sick, that in the coming year we will be allowed to pursue what has now become a K of C tradition in honor of St. Brother André.”
Last month, a group of K of C pilgrims and family members made the trek up to the shrine to express their devotion. Among them was Patrick Alcaide, faithful navigator of San Lorenzo Ruiz Assembly 3103 in Montréal.
“St. Joseph is an unparalleled model for men and especially for Knights,” said Alcaide. “While St. Joseph teaches men how to sanctify ourselves in the professional world, he reminds us that we must maintain a balance, and that Sundays belong to God and one’s family. That’s why we often go to the Oratory of St. Joseph — to recenter ourselves on what’s essential as Catholics.”
FRANCIS DENIS is a journalist and producer at Salt + Light Media and a member of Côte St-Paul Council 3193 in Montréal.