I’ve had a special fondness for St. Andre Bessette ever since I was a student at Notre Dame at the time when he was canonized.
It was exciting to be there for the canonization of the first saint from Congregation of the Holy Cross (the religious order that founded the university). Posters of his image hung all over campus, which I imagine would make this sweet and gentle saint smile and shake his head at all the hoopla.
At the time, a friend commented that it was ironic that the first Holy Cross saint was illiterate, given that the order devotes its efforts to education and learning. But I disagree; I would argue that St. Andre is a beautiful example of this educational mission in action, even though he could not read.
The purpose of education is to form the soul to know, love and serve God. As the Catechism tells us, “Prudent education teaches virtue” (1784).
Who could be a better example of virtue than “the miracle man of Montreal,” whose holiness and ardent faith changed millions of lives?
The lowly doorkeeper became famous for his extraordinary faith and ministry of miracles. He cured over 10,000 people in his lifetime and the oratory he helped to build became a popular pilgrimage destination. When he died, more than one million people filed past his coffin.
St. André’s life seems to illustrate this verse: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Because of all this, St. Andre’s life reminds me what the actual purpose of education is. His goodness, kindness, and loving service are what Catholic educators strive to achieve, both for ourselves and for our students.
His famous humility shows us a necessary first step to sanctity. According to the the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Humility is … said to be the foundation of the spiritual edifice … Humility is the first virtue inasmuch as it removes the obstacles to faith … It removes pride and makes a man subject to and a fit recipient of grace according to the words of St. James: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth his grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
He did not know how to read, but he knew something much deeper and more important. He knew how to pray, he knew how to serve, and he knew how to love. What more could educators want for our students?
As a homeschooling mother, I look to St. Andre to remind me what the real purpose of my children’s education is. I love this gentle, humble saint, and ask for his prayers while trying to follow his inspiring legacy.