California woman has family connection to new saint

San Marcos resident Aurora Albright remembers spending lazy, berry-picking summers at her grandparents’ two-story farmhouse in AuSable Forks, N.Y.

Each season, she would help feed the chickens and pigs and try not to eat more berries than she picked. Since she lived in the city, the summers spent with her “Ma-mere” and “Pa-pere” opened her eyes to the nonstop labor involved in living on a farm.

Her hardworking grandparents didn’t own a washing machine and had no indoor plumbing. Her grandfather, Frederick Akey, always “walked funny” and her grandmother, Laura Akey, had a rosary or a missal in her hand at all times, Albright remembered. The religious couple raised 10 children in the rural town near the Canadian border.

Each adolescent summer before Albright moved to California at age 18, she would listen to stories that her grandfather would tell about Brother Andre Bessette and how he healed her very own “Pa-pere.”

When you’re a kid, stories about adults don’t hold much meaning, especially when they are retold time and time again, Albright emphasized. But today, she is a great-grandmother at 82, and gets visibly emotional when she recounts the story of her grandfather and his week-long healing encounter with Brother Andre in 1913.

Brother Andre, who died in 1937, recently became the first Canadian-born man and first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross to become a canonized saint. His canonization took place Oct. 17 in Rome.

Albright was cheering from home when Brother Andre was canonized, but some of her extended family members made the trek to Rome to honor the small-statured Brother Andre who devoted his life to hospitality, charity, tireless work and prayer.

Before Albright was born, her “Pa-pere” suffered a serious work accident when he fell more than 40 feet from a mill conveyer belt, driving his left leg into his hip and leaving a six-inch leg discrepancy. Crutches were the only way he could mobilize himself, and a surgery in Montreal was a failure.

Her grandmother Laura had heard stories of miraculous healings with Brother Andre, also in Montreal, and his intercession to St. Joseph. She decided to write him a letter about her husband’s condition. Brother Andre replied and invited the couple to St. Joseph’s Shrine (now St. Joseph’s Oratory).

After a week of conversation and prayer, Brother Andre had Albright’s grandfather carried to the altar, at the foot of which he told him to stand up and walk. When the disabled New Yorker stood up for the first time in years without crutches and began to walk, it was indeed a miracle.

Albright stated that Brother Andre handed her grandfather a cane, and he left his crutches at the shrine along with the hundreds of others abandoned by individuals who were rewarded by the powerful intercession of Brother Andre and St. Joseph.

This month, Albright feels a special connection to the legacy of Brother Andre as she recalls how her family was rewarded with his miraculous healing of her grandfather.

After his week-long visit with Brother Andre, Albright’s grandfather eventually returned to the workforce, had more children and died at the age of 89. Albright attributes his long life to his Catholic faith and personal experience with St. Andre. Her own faith-filled life is a testament to the foundation started by her grandparents.

Albright herself is no stranger to hard work and family tragedy. She plans to seek St. Andre’s intercession as her younger daughter continues to battle cancer. The strawberry-haired San Marcos resident already lost her only son to cancer two years ago.

She never expected to outlive her own children, and this vibrant parishioner of Escondido’s Resurrection Parish prays daily for strength to build upon her faith. She regularly serves as a lector at Resurrection and has no imminent plans to retire. Now, with St. Andre’s help, she hopes to continue.

Printed with permission from the Southern Cross, newspaper for the Diocese of San Diego.

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