Alfred Bessette : Novice (1870-1874)

It was on December 27, 1870, just a few weeks after arriving at Collège Notre-Dame, that young Alfred Bessette entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Holy Cross1. Dressed in the Brothers’ cassock with a double cincture around his waist, Alfred took his vows of commitment before the novice master, Father Julien Gastineau, CSC. It was during this ceremony that he took the name of Brother André.

Frère André : Novice

4-1 Brother André, novice. Around 1870. Unknown photographer.
Archives of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mont-Royal.

Over the next two years, Brother André devoted himself to learning a new life for which nothing had truly prepared him. But he was inspired by the intuition of Father André Provençal, who saw in the young man an ideal candidate for manual work with the Brothers of the Holy Cross.

His life was anything but idle! Postulants, like novices, are put to the test in order to retain only those who are fully prepared to devote their lives to the service of the Congregation’s works. The Capitular Rules of the Congregation of Holy Cross of 1873 are an example of this. The days are full:

“4:30 a.m.” Wake. – 5 a.m. Vocal and meditated prayers. – 5:30 a.m. Mass, at the end of which seven Paters, seven Aves and seven Glorias are recited in honour of the seven Joys and seven Sorrows of Saint Joseph, followed by study in the winter and manual labour in the summer. – 7:30 A.m., Breakfast, followed by manual labour. – 9:30 a.m. Study. – 10:30 a.m. Class. – 11:30 a.m. Singing. 11:45 a.m. Self-reflection. – Noon. Lunch, then recreation…” 2.

In the afternoon, the periods of work and study were divided according to the seasons, always interspersed with the recitation of the seven Paters, Aves and Glorias. The day would end at 8:30 p.m. With the rosary, prayer and bed. These rules were intended to inculcate a total “supernatural life” and above all to root in the practice of young religious “habits that will be those of a lifetime.”3.

As a novice, Brother André also had to meditate morning and evening, recite the Breviary in common (to replace the seven Paters, Aves and Glorias), and also study the Scriptures and Holy History, the Rules, the Directory, the Catechism, pedagogy, ceremonies and singing. Fortunately, he was able to take a walk “once a week” and enjoy a “one-day retreat at the end of the month.”4.

We do not know how Brother André, who received a very basic education, faced this workload of study. Azarias Claude, a close friend of Brother André’s, said during the informative process that he was “poorly educated, could read and barely sign his name.” Another witness reported that Brother André could read and that he had probably developed this skill during his novitiate5.

In any case, this period of intellectual training was brief. On July 27, 1871, Brother André received his first obedience: nurse, linen room attendant, responsible for the community’s corridor. Then in December, the responsibilities of doorman, lamp keeper, cleaning “the chapel, corridors, rooms, stairs, etc.” were added, in addition to bringing wood to the rooms6.

There were many doubts about Brother André’s ability to pursue his profession. He was refused it for the first time in January 1872 on the pretext that his health was too poor. Brother André was very disheartened because he thought he had found his calling in life. Fortunately, other members of the Congregation of Holy Cross as well as Bishop Ignace Bourget encouraged him to persevere.

The arrival of Father Amédée Guy, CSC. as master of novices and his affection for the young man proved to be providential. He was the one who said of Brother André: “Should this young man one day become incapable of working, at least he’ll know how to pray.7 “ On August 22, 1872, Brother André finally made his temporary vows. He made his perpetual less than two years later, on February 2, 1874.

Frère André au moment de ses vœux perpétuels

5-1 Brother André during his perpetual vows, 1874. Photographer : Henri Larin. Archives of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal

Façade du Collège Notre-Dame.

9-1 Facade of Notre-Dame College. Date and photographer unknown. Archives of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.
Brother André’s cell was near the door to the right of the photograph.


1 Alfred Bessette was first admitted as a candidate on November 22, 1870, a title he would only have for a few weeks. Étienne Catta, Le frère André 1845-1937. Montréal: Fides, 1965, pp.167-168
2 Capitular Rules of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Le Mans: Typographie Ed. Monnoyer, 1873, p. 7
3 Catta, op.cit., p. 171
4 Capitular Rules…, op.cit., 11
5 Summarium Index Montréal: Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, 1999, pp. 152-153
6 Catta, op.cit., 176
7 Ibid., p. 180