Wednesday, June 29, 2011

RemembeRED: An Old World Saint in the New World


            This is a late posting for the RemembeRED prompt from the Red Dress Club. This week’s assignment was to write about a class trip, so it’s only appropriate that this be a day late like most of my college assignments. I very rarely write about religion, so there are new waters for me to dive into.
An Old World Saint in a New World
            I was trying to follow along at Saturday afternoon mass as my children squirmed in the pew beside me. I have been told by a number of my fellow parishioners that my boys are well behaved during mass. It’s kind of them to lie like that. By the end, my patience is gone and I don’t always catch what Father Larry or Father Jim has to say during the announcements. But this week there was an announcement that got my attention. 
“I have very exciting news,” said Father Larry. “Blessed Brother André Bissette of the Order of The Holy Cross will be canonized in October.” He went on to tell the parishioners about Brother André.
            I’m not the strictest Catholic in the world, but saints are one of the things I like best about my faith. The idea that someone Up There can run interference for us with the Man in charge appeals to me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to have that go-between. When I talk to God, I address my remarks directly to Him. But it’s nice to have an otherworldly advocate who has your back. And Brother André (now Saint André) and I go way back.
            In my senior year, my college choir took a trip to Montreal to sing in two basilicas. My roommates and I drove my little black Honda Prelude from Poughkeepsie to Canada with the sunroof open as we sang The Indigo Girls songs at the top of our lungs. There wasn’t enough room in the bus for the entire choir, so the director allowed us to take my car.
            We danced in nightclubs, found out that beer was cheaper than Diet Coke, discovered we didn’t like French food, got lost in a sketchy part of town, and serenaded some hockey players in the hotel elevator (they didn’t believe we were singers and we felt obliged to prove it). And of course, we sang with the choir. We sang pieces by Handel and Fauré at masses at St. Patrick’s Basilica and St. Joseph’s Oratory.
St. Joseph’s began as a humble wooden chapel built by Brother Andre who raised the money by offering students inexpensive haircuts. Today it is a grand copper-domed building—the third largest of its kind in the world. I was awed by the piles of crutches and canes left behind by those whose cures are attributed to Brother Andre’s miracles. I knew shrines like this existed, but I never expected to see one so close to home. There were places to pray for St. Joseph’s intervention for various things. I paused to light a candle at a sign that read St. Joseph patron des mourants (patron of the dying) for a friend with cancer.
We continued on to the choir loft of the Crypt church—smaller than the main chapel it seats an impressive 1,000 people. After we sang we began to look for the exit. A kindly security guard spotted us, conspicuous in our purple iridescent taffeta choir gowns (think of the ugliest bridesmaid dress you’ve ever seen and add a little more ugly and a little less flattering). “Would you ladies like to see Brother André’s heart?” he asked us.
“Sure,” we said. We really wanted to get back to the hotel, take off our gowns and find some more cheap beer, but he seemed so enthusiastic. I assumed the guard was speaking metaphorically. Perhaps we’d see an exhibit about Brother André’s miracles. The guard showed us a glass box behind a metal grate with the letters RIP sculpted on the top.  Inside was a human heart—Brother André’s heart preserved as a relic. We didn’t really know what to say as the guard looked at us expectantly. I think one of us mumbled, “Thanks for showing us this.” He asked us to sign a petition for Brother André’s canonization.
I thought about that signature when Fr. Larry told us Brother André had become a saint. I reflected on having a great time with great friends and singing beautiful music. My life had changed so much. No longer a student and now a wife and mother. I am in touch with my roommates through the miracle of Facebook. When I got home that afternoon I opened my laptop and wrote them a message, “Do you remember Brother André…”