Blessed Brother Charles de Foucauld

Information gathered from CharlesdeFoucauld.org

Birth: 1858

  • Born Sept. 15, 1858 in Strasburg (France), into an aristocratic family, whose motto is "Never back". He receives baptism at the time of his birth.

Childhood and Youth: 1858-1876

"I, who was surrounded with so many graces, from my early childhood, the son of a saintly mother..."  November 1897

  • Charles had one sister, Marie, 3 years younger than him.

  • His parents die, in close succession, in 1864. This remained a deep wound for Charles.
  • The orphans were put into the care of their maternal grandfather, Colonel de Morlet, who is a kind but weak man.
  • After the Franco-German war of 1870, France lost Alsace and Lorraine. The family moved from Strasburg to Nancy, and chose to remain French.
  • He attended secondary school in Nancy, then in Paris, with the Jesuits where he obtained his baccalaureate and began preparing for Saint-Cyr (a military school). He was dismissed before the end of the year on the grounds of laziness and unruly behavior. By his own account, he lost his faith at age 16, on finishing high school.

Military Life: 1876-1881

"I was straying further and further away from you, Lord. All faith had disappeared from my life." 

         - Retreat, November 1897


  • 1876: He entered Saint-Cyr.
  • 1878: His grandfather died in February, leaving him heir to a considerable fortune, which he squandered. He entered the Saumur Cavalry School in October, and finished as 87th out of a class of 87, in 1879.
  • At school, he led a riotous life, indulging in unruly and eccentric behavior (leaving his post while on sentinel duty, dressing up as a beggar). He drew and read a lot to improve his education.
  • 1879: While stationed in Pont-à-Mousson, he continued to squander his wealth, led the high life, and was seen with a woman of ill-repute, Mimi.
  • 1880: His regiment was sent to Algeria. He took Mimi with him, passing her off as his wife. When the fraud was discovered, the army ordered him to send her back. Charles refuses, preferring to be suspended and removed from duty. He went home to France and settled in Evian.
  • 1881: Hearing that his regiment was involved in dangerous action in Tunisia, he abandoned Mimi, asked to be reinstated, and joined a new regiment in the south Oran area.
  • For the next 8 months, he proved to be an excellent officer, praised by his superiors as well as by the lower ranks.

Journeys of Exploration: 1882-1886

"The encounter with Islam caused a profound upheaval within me."  

      - Letter, July 8 1901

  • 1882: Fascinated by Northern Africa, he resigned from the Army and settled in Algiers in order to prepare for an exploration of Morocco. He learned Arabic and Hebrew.
  • June 1883 - May 1884: He travelled across Morocco secretly, disguised as a Rabbi, under the guidance of Rabbi Mardochee. His life was in danger on several occasions. He was impressed by the faith and religious devotion of the Moslems.
  • 1884: Charles thought of marrying while in Algiers, but he broke off the relationship because his family disapproved of the marriage.
  • 1885: He was awarded the gold medal of the French Geographical Society for his reconnaissance of Morocco.
  • 1885-1886: He traveled to the oases of Southern Algeria and Tunisia.
  • 1886: He went home to France and saw his family, in particular his cousin, Marie de Bondy.
  • He wrote "An exploration of Morocco".
  • He led an austere, ascetic life.
  • He questioned himself on the inner life and spirituality. He went into churches, without any faith, and repeated this strange prayer: "My God, if you exist, let me know you".

Conversion: 1886-1889

"As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live only for him..."       - August 14, 1901

            • Late October 1886: He walked into the St Augustine church, in Paris, to ask for religious instruction from Abbe Huvelin, whose name had been mentioned by Marie de Bondy.
            • Abbe Huvelin told him to make his confession and receive communion at once.
            • 1887-1888 : He stayed with his family, in the provinces at the home of his sister Marie, and began to think about the religious life.
            • Dec. 1888 - Jan. 1889: Charles went to the Holy Land; Nazareth made a strong impression on him.
            • On his return to France, he gave all his possessions to his sister. He made various retreats in search of a religious order he might join.
            • He felt called to live "the hidden life of the poor and humble worker of Nazareth". The Trappist order seemed to him the one that suited him best.



Religious Life: 1890-1897

"My religious vocation dates from the same moment as my faith: God is so great..."

      - Letter: Aug. 14, 1901

  • 1890 (Jan. 15): He entered the Trappist monastery of Notre-Dame des Neiges in France with the hope of joining a much poorer Trappist monastery in Akbes, Syria, later. He was, in fact, sent to Akbes six months later.
  • He created his first plan for a religious congregation "in his own style". He wrote, "I long for Nazareth".
  • He asked to be dispensed from his vows. In October 1896, he was sent to study in Rome.
  • Jan. 1897: The Abbot General of the Trappists freed him to follow his vocation.

Nazareth: 1897-1900


"In order to be even more like Jesus..."  - Letter: Aug. 14, 1901

"By the very fact of celebrating Mass, I will pay God the greatest tribute, and do most good to men."  -  Letter: April 26, 1900

      • "I obtained permission to go to Nazareth on my own, and to live there unknown, as a worker, from my daily work. Solitude, prayer, adoration, meditation of the Gospel, humble work"
      • He remained there for a little over 3 years. Little by little, the Poor Clares and his confessor, Abbe Huvelin, led him to agree to ask for ordination to the priesthood.
      • He returned to France, to Notre-Dame des Neiges, to prepare himself.
      • June 9, 1901: He was ordained as a priest in Viviers (Ardeche).



BENI-ABBES AND THE VISITS TO THE TUAREGS:  1901-1906

"To lead in the Sahara the hidden life of Jesus, not in order to preach, but to live in solitude the poverty and the humble work of Jesus."  April 1904

  • September 1901: Charles de Foucauld was in Algiers. He settled in Beni-Abbes where he built a fraternity in order to found a community of Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, living a "monastic" rule.
  • 1902: He drew the attention of friends and the authorities to the tragedy of slavery. He ransomed several slaves.
  • 1904 and 1905: He made several tours among the Tuaregs. In 1905 he moved to Tamanrasset in their territory. He learned their language.
  • No priest had gone into their territory before him.
  • He began to translate the Gospel for them.
  • 1906: A companion joined him at last. But Brother Michael soon fell ill, and left.

TAMANRASSET - 3 TRIPS TO FRANCE:  1907-1916

"My apostolate must be the apostolate of goodness. In seeing me, people should say to one another: 'Since this man is so good, his religion must be good'."1909

  • July 1907: Charles undertook a huge scientific work on the Tuareg language, their songs their and poetry. He was helped by a man of the country.
  • He was the only Christian, and so was not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist. But he choose to remain ... for the sake of the people. This lasted for 6 months. He then received permission to celebrate alone, but not to reserve the Blessed Sacrament.
  • January 1908: Exhausted, he fell ill and came close to death. The Tuaregs saved his life by sharing the little goats milk they had left in this period of drought. Charles was helpless, depended on his neighbors. He realizes that friendship, fraternal love, goes by way of exchange and reciprocity.
  • 1909-1911-1913: He made tree visits to France, to present his plan for a "Union of brothers and sisters of the Sacred Heart", an association for the conversion of unbelievers. "Fervent Christians from all walks of life, able to make known, through their example, what the Christian religion is, and to make the Gospel 'seen' in their lives". (Rules and Counsels, 1909-1913)
  • 1914: The war broke out in Europe. Charles de Foucauld remained in Tamanrasset, on the advice of Laperrine, a soldier who was one of his friends.
  • 1915: A time of unrest in the desert: raids by Moroccans and Senoussites from Libya threatened the area.

 

THE FINAL YEAR - HIS DEATH:  1916

"Our self-abasement is the most powerful means that we have to unite us to Jesus and do good to souls."  Letter to Marie de Bondy, Dec. 1, 1916.

"If the grain of wheat that has fallen into the ground does not die, it remains alone. If it dies, it bears much fruit. I have not died, and so I remain alone... Pray for my conversion so that in dying I may bear fruit."Letter to Suzanne Perret

  • To protect the local people, Charles de Foucauld built a small fort in Tamanrasset. He moved in there on his own, waiting to receive the people from the surrounding area in case of danger.
  • He continued to work on Tuareg poems and proverbs.
  • Dec. 1, 1916: Some Tuaregs, under Senoussite influence, lured him outside the fort, took hold of him, and bound him.
  • During the looting, there was an unexpected warning that soldiers were coming. There was panic. A shot was fired. He was killed. His body was buried in a ditch that surrounded the fort.
  • At the time of his death, Charles de Foucauld was alone or almost... In France, 49 people had joined the Union of brothers and sisters of the Sacred Heart, which he had succeeded in having approved by the religious authorities.
  • In 2005, 19 different groups, of lay people, priests, religious brothers and sisters, live the Gospel throughout the world following to the intuitions of Charles de Foucauld.
 
Drawings © Pierre de Montvallon (Piem).