Father Rene Voillaume and the Little Sisters of Jesus

Born in 1905 in Versailles, into a large and deeply Christian family. One of the first disciples of Charles de Foucauld whom he had discovered when he was about 17 upon reading the book by Rene Bazin. His vocation also dated back to that time. He felt interiorly attracted to the priestly life and to a contemplative life centered on the Eucharist. He also had the desire to be a missionary through the radiation of an evangelical life of charity. In 1923, he entered the seminary of St. Sulpice in Issy-les-Moulineaux. In order to have a preparation more directly geared towards missionary life, he entered the White Fathers and was sent to Algiers for the novitiate. But he did not stay because of his health and returned to the seminary of Saint Sulpice in Issy-les-Moulineaux. He was ordained a priest on June 29, 1929. His bishop, who understood his vocation, sent him to Rome to study theology. There, he met Louis Massignon, theologian and Islamologist, friend and disciple of Charles de Foucauld. In 1933, he left for El-Abiodh-Sidi-Cheikh in the Sahara with four companions to found the community of the "Little Brothers of Jesus ". They followed the rule written by Charles de Foucauld, taking inspiration also from the Carthusian tradition and Carmelite spirituality. Later, in 1956, he founded the Little Brothers of the Gospel and, in 1963, the Little Sisters of the Gospel. He also accompanied several groups inspired by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld.
In 1950, his book "Seeds of the Desert" was published: a book with a jolt that caused a stir in the Church and made known this new form of religious life. Upon reading it, many young people entered the congregations of the Little Brothers and the Little Sisters. This first burst of enthusiasm allowed many new foundations throughout the world. 

  The meeting of 2 disciples of Charles de Foucauld


 


In March 1938, Little Sister Magdeleine made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Charles de Foucauld in El Golea in the Sahara. And it was there that she met Father Rene Voillaume for the first time. She wrote in her diary, "Providential meeting! I had written to Father Voillaume before, without knowing him, to tell him about my desire to follow Brother Charles of Jesus. I told him about all my desires and especially about this life under the tent that so attracted me. He listened to me with much kindness but hardly spoke and, after I had left him, I would have been quite embarrassed to know if he approved of me or not. He did accept to correspond with me and gave me a rendez-vous at El Abiodh Sidi Cheikh for a retreat next June.”
 
  At the end of that retreat of June 1944, l.sr. Magdeleine wrote to Father Voillaume: “Ever since the beginning of the foundation, I have never received such graces. I believe that it was the spirit of Brother Charles that was revealed during this encounter”. She chose Father Voillaume to be her spiritual director. 

 

Collaborating in formation
      From the very beginning of the community, l.sr. Magdeleine felt the need to give the little sisters a spirituality  drawn from its source, that is, from Brother      Charles’ life and message.  

She was convinced that Father Voillaume had the charism to translate that into a simple language based on the Gospel. Also, from 1946 on, she confided the spiritual formation of the little sisters to him, which was done by means of yearly sessions held at first in El Abiodh and then in Rome. These sessions continued even after the death of Little sister Magdeleine. Several generations of little sisters were marked by these times of formation.


Mutual influence for this new form of religious life

When L.Sr. Magdeleine met Father Voillaume, the Little Brothers of Jesus were living out Brother Charles’ ideal in a cloistered monastic life. His relationship with L.Sr. Magdeleine led him little by little to review his conception of the life of Nazareth as lived by Brother Charles. In December 1944, he wrote to Little sister Magdeleine: “It seems to me that we must be more and more deeply united and that our two foundations must rely on each other and live the same spirit.”
The intuitions of L.Sr. Magdeleine on the way to follow Brother Charles influenced Father Voillaume and little by little changed the form of life of the Little Brothers. Thus, the foundation of a community of little sisters in a working class neighborhood with little sisters working in a factory in Aix in 1946 influenced Father Voillaume and led the brothers to leave the cloister in order to live in the midst of the world.
In 1953 Little sister Magdeleine undertook a huge trip around the world in order to sow communities of little sisters a bit everywhere and she invited Father Voillaume to join in the adventure! He recognized that he was the “one being led and Little sister Magdeleine, the one leading.”                   
                                                                                                   

He realized, too, that he himself would never have dreamed of such a trip; however, he added, “It was the concrete expression and implementation, if I might say, of the universality conceived as an openness to different races and different peoples.”Thus, Little sister Magdeleine and Father Voillaume worked closely together to begin this new form of religious life, contemplative life in the midst of the world of the poor, which was very avant-garde at that time.

 Witness of the working of the Lord in L.Sr.Magdeleine
Through the years, their affection for and confidence in one another deepened. Two months before her death, L.Sr. Magdeleine wrote, “after me, Father Voillaume will continue to guide you on the path of Brother Charles as he has done since the first years of the foundation. He helped me so much and comforted me in the difficult times.”
   After the death of L.Sr. Magdeleine, Father Voillaume made known to the little sisters more deeply the life of faith of their foundress and her intimate relation with “the infant Jesus” of whom she never stopped speaking. A year after her death, Father Voillaume wrote to the little sisters that “it was along the path of childlike faith that Jesus himself led Little sister Magdeleine to a profound union with God that showed through her whole being, the depths of which she herself can now reveal to you by surrendering to you her secret of love, in a hymn of thanksgiving to God for the abundant graces she received”.

 

                                                               
                 Father Voillaume spent the last years of his life at the motherhouse of the Little Sister of Jesus, the Tubet, in Aix-en-Provence.

                  He died on May 13th 2003.
 


 

 

 

 
 
 

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