This huge Catholic church—dominating Mont Royal’s north slope—is seen by some as inspiring, by others as forbidding. It’s Montréal’s highest point, with an enormous dome 97m (318 ft.) high. Consecrated as a basilica in 2004, it came into being through the efforts of Brother André, a lay brother in the Holy Cross order who earned a reputation as a healer. By the time he had built a small wooden chapel in 1904 on the mountain, he was said to have performed hundreds of cures. His powers attracted supplicants from great distances, and he performed his work until his death in 1937. His dream of building a shrine to honor St. Joseph, patron saint of Canada, became a reality in 1967. In 1982, he was beatified by the pope—a status one step below sainthood—and in 2010 he earned the distinction of sainthood, too. An exhibit was created shortly thereafter to commemorate this honor. There’s even a Facebook page in his name maintained by the church, at www.facebook.com/saintfrereandre.
The church is largely Italian Renaissance in style, its giant copper dome recalling the shape of the Duomo in Florence, but of greater size and lesser grace. Inside is a sanctuary and exhibit that displays Brother André’s actual heart in a formalin-filled urn. His original wooden chapel, with its tiny bedroom, is on the grounds and open to the public. More than two million pilgrims visit annually, many of who seek intercession from St. Joseph and Brother André by climbing the middle set of 99 steps on their knees. The 56-bell carillon plays Wednesday to Friday at noon and 3pm, Saturday at noon at 2:30pm, and Sunday at 12:15 and 2:30pm. Also on-site is an oratory museum featuring 264 nativity scenes from 111 countries.
Since 2002, the oratory has been implementing a multi-phase renovation project to improve overall accessibility for the ever-increasing number of visitors. Completed projects include a new access road, additional elevators, including one to the basilica, and a full cleaning of the stained-glass windows. A new visitor’s center and an observatory at the top of the basilica’s dome are in the works with a target completion date of 2017.