Address to the Order of Malta Auxiliaries Dinner – April 2010 By: Father Claude Grou – Rector of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
This year marks the 55th anniversary of foundation of the Saint Joseph Brigade of the Order of Malta Auxiliaries. This same year, Brother André will officially become what he already is in the hearts of thousands of pilgrims, a Saint of the universal Church. I am both privileged and very pleased to have been invited to talk to you tonight about two subjects that mean a lot to me, the Order of Malta Auxiliaries and Blessed Brother André.
I believe a better understanding of the importance of setting up the Saint Joseph Brigade is gained by envisioning it in the context of the life and works of Brother André. Even prior to the foundation of the Oratory, Brother André was surrounded by people assisting him in his tasks. In particular, it is known that men agreed to drive him on his visits to the sick. At the time of the Oratory’s foundation, these persons as a group were working closely with Brother André to its development. Among other tasks, they welcomed crowds waiting to see Brother André and maintained order. Brother André used to invite his friends to pray with him. Many of them joined him for stations of the cross or hours of worship. In order to meet increasing needs resulting from the development of the Oratory, more and more persons began volunteering their services. The sick were coming in numbers to the Oratory to pray, and they had to be assisted and escorted throughout their visit. A group of firefighters from Montreal agreed to provide this escort service. Immediately following the death of Brother André, this group continued to meet in order to pray and to assist in the development. They became a brotherhood. They gathered for Wednesday worship. On June 21, 1955, Q.J. Gwyn, Chancellor of the Canadian Association of the Order of Malta, offered to provide the required services to the St. Joseph Basilica. This auxiliary group gradually evolved and officially became the Saint Joseph Brigade in September 1983. In 1990, the Director at the time, André Bessette, and the Assistant Director, Paul-Émile Lauzon, summarized the spirit of the brigade as follows: (inspired by the greatest Christian virtue, charity, we wish to follow on the same path and, with the purest generosity, extend hospitality to the many pilgrims climbing this mountain of faith. Millions of people are coming to Saint Joseph’s Oratory, and our greatest privilege as the Order or Malta Auxiliaries is to put ourselves at their service). The brigade follows the tradition of service, which has been the trademark of people surrounding Brother André since the beginnings of the Oratory. This tradition falls within the perspective of extending hospitality to and escorting pilgrims, especially the sick. The brigade is much more than a team of volunteers. As in the case of Brother André’s first companions, their service is embedded in a prayer movement and a spiritual exercise. Dear friends, in the next few months, we will often have the opportunity to talk about Brother André. In the popular imagination, the man who alleviated the sufferings of so many persons will doubtless come to mind. It will be important to see the man who knew how to muster men and women around him to pray and to carry out together a project beyond imagination. The unassuming porter of Notre Dame College built this huge basilica in honour of Saint Joseph, proof that he was able to communicate his faith to people surrounding him. It is at this point that he becomes a source of inspiration. In the face of challenges confronting our Church, I daresay we have reason to feel deprived, but Brother André reminds us that this is the work of the Lord and that His work is being fulfilled. We have yet to learn how to put ourselves as much to His service as Brother André did. I trust this event will also give a new impulse to the Saint Joseph Brigade of the Order of Malta Auxiliaries. In our society, pilgrimage sites such as the Oratory play a very important role, and together they will be able to better serve our Church if they are able to rely on one or more groups of volunteers who agree to accompany pilgrims by both their prayers and action. This aspect of our shrine’s life is essential to meet today and tomorrow’s needs and to pursue the wonderful insight of the man we will soon refer to as Saint Brother André, who wanted to surround himself with a dynamic team whose actions are embedded in faith. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share these reflections with you and to pay tribute to Blessed Brother André and to the wonderful team of volunteers that are allowing us to pursue his work.