The Making of a Miracle: Medical Miracles and Canonization

On August 9, 1845, Saint André Bessette was born near Montreal, the 8th of 12 children. From the beginning, he was sickly and weak. He was orphaned at the age of 12 and became a farmhand. However, he was deeply devoted to his faith and held a special affection for the Passion of Our Lord and for St. Joseph. Thus, when his infirmities prevented him from succeeding at other professions, he found his true home and entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross where he was assigned to and graciously accepted the humble post of Porter at the College of Notre Dame in Montreal. Unbeknownst to his superiors, this position would not only open the doors for those who entered the academic institution but would open the door to numerous healings of body and soul. For it was immediately apparent that Brother André was a "saint." He took on the charisms of those to whom he was devoted—he joyfully fulfilled even the most mundane chores just as St. Joseph would and he clung to the Passion of the Lord by embracing both his own sufferings as well as the sufferings of others. He spent hours fervently praying over and for all those who entered the halls and truly made the doorway a sacred space.

Over time, his prayers were followed by numerous miraculous healings and masses came from the world over to receive his prayers. He always attributed the miracles to the intercession of St. Joseph and thus was grateful to meticulously assist the Holy Cross in building St. Joseph's Oratory on Mount Royal. There, the miracles continued. In fact, healings were so intertwined with the spirit of the Oratory that built into the very décor, mountains of crutches, discarded by those who were healed, form an artistic spire of hope. He died January 6, 1937, at the age of 91 and was buried at the Oratory where more than one million streamed past the little coffin of this simple but great man.

To most, there is little doubt that this so called "Miracle Worker" was saintly. According to Father Henri-Paul Bergeron, to see Fr. André in public was to see "a scene from the life of Our Lord: everyone rushed forth to beg for favors and cures." However, the Church, in attempting to rebuke outside criticism and to prevent inconsistencies and/or corruption, must enforce its highly structured Canonization process. In early Christendom, Saints were declared by local priests but beginning in 419AD at the Council of Carthage, the process began to evolve into the systematic structure in place today. The Canonization process is now overseen by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints and its first step is to explore a scholarly biography written to establish that the deceased existed, possessed heroic virtues and led and exemplary life. The acceptance of Brother André's "biography" declared him "venerable" in 1978.

The next step, Beatification, is more detailed and involves the declaration of a miracle, "a discernible, divine act in the world, outside, above, or beyond the natural order of things, which manifests some aspect of God's power and love." This miracle, not only demonstrates the power of the supernatural, but signifies the servant's place in Heaven—for only if one is in the presence of God, can one intercede on behalf of the living. As approximately 95% of all miracles are physical healings, the physicians' role is crucial. A Medical Commission, consisting of 60 esteemed physician-consultants appointed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, decides if an alleged medical miracle is inexplicable by current medical science. All of these physicians must be Roman Catholic, although testimony is accepted at face value from all legitimately licensed medical personnel, including atheists. After a thorough study, a vote is cast, unanimously in most cases, and the cause moves toward a theological examination by the Consultors and later by the Cardinals and Bishops. In 1982, the lone miracle of Giuseppe Carlo Audino, healed of cancer in 1956, was determined to be miraculous, sanctioning Brother André as "blessed."

The final step toward sainthood is "Canonization" which requires the presence of one additional miracle. For Brother André, the recovery of an injured son in a 1990's car accident, was deemed a miracle. Thus, on October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI used a single word "dicernimus"—meaning we recognize and acknowledge his saintliness—and a humble man who "lived the beatitude of the pure of heart" became a Saint.

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  —Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

As Juliet laments her disastrous fate, she asks if a rose called by any other name would cease to be a rose. Certainly a rose would be just as beautiful if a new word was chosen to designate it from other flowers. Thus, we have to ask, how important is a name?

The History of Contraception & the Catholic Church

Many would claim that the Church's teachings against contraception are new constructs imposed on the masses by a prudish male-dominated institution. Others would say the teachings are out-dated and based on a first century view of human sexuality.

The Unique Subject Matter of Bioethics

The legacy of St. Ignatius also extends to education as evident by the numerous Jesuit teaching institutions throughout the world.

Infertility and the Catholic Church

As physicians, we are taught that to alleviate one's suffering is our most noble gift and certainly, infertility is one of the greatest hardships one can face.

A Meditation on the Passion, a Medical Point of View

Many scholars throughout history have sought to discover the cause of death of Our Lord. Some would say asphyxia, others pulmonary embolism or even "ruptured heart."

The Legacy of St. Luke

In 1912, His Eminence William Henry O'Connell, Archbishop of Boston, evoked the spirit of St. Luke and founded the first Catholic Physicians Guild.

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