Louis Évely (1910–1985) was a Christian spiritual writer from Belgium. A Roman Catholic priest, he published several books about the spiritual life. After his marriage he left the priesthood but remained active as a spiritual leader.
Évely was a pedagogue of the spiritual life and at the same time a publishing wonder. Several of his works sold in the hundreds of thousands and were translated into 25 languages. The fame of Louis Évely was such in the 1960s that one of his sermons was reproduced in its entirety in a film directed by Éric Rohmer. One of his conferences on prayer held in Spain started a riot, as some conservative Catholics were shocked by his freedom of expression.
Most of Évely's work, rather than the fruit of academic research, stems from preaching at conferences and retreats and from the response that his words worked in the heart of thousands of Christians. Many of his listeners transcribed the text of talks to disseminate them among their churches, often in carbon typescript or photocopies, long before the texts reached editors and printers.
Louis Évely was born in Brussels, on 5 November 1910. Deemed a bright student, he was also a mystical teenager who discovered, thanks to Scouting, a sense of solidarity toward others and of the practical. Having completed his university education and obtaining two doctorates, one in law and the other in philosophy, he entered the major seminary at Malines-Brussels (Dutch: Mechelen-Brussel) at the age of 23.
Ordained at 27 (quickly given the usual six years of training for the priesthood), he received the surprise of being assigned to assist at a very poor rural school rather than, as he envisaged, as a professor at the University of Louvain. The school was at the edge of the battlefield of Waterloo. This apparent penance turned into an opportunity. Through his experience catechizing children, Evely learned how to present the message of the gospel with a simplicity for which he was later to acquire renown.
A similar experience occurred to him as a chaplain of the World War II anti-Nazi resistance in the Ardennes. The priest was suddenly confronted with the task of addressing agnostics or anticlerical Maquis.
After the war, hailed for his work with the resistance, he became the director of his school, while also working as a teacher and chaplain for various nearby Christian groups.
Drawn by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld, he started in Belgium non-ordained fraternities inspired de Foucauld's ideas. At that time, the reputation of Évely as a preacher lead him to become a popular spiritual retreat director, speaker at religious conferences and to preach publicly to the fraternities, a movement of assistance to the Third World known as Ad Lucem (Latin, to the light) and eventually a series of Lenten radio addresses. It was from these speeches that his first books developed.
Father Évely began to acquire a reputation for speaking with humor and a certain audacity that later seemed to have anticipated the assertions of the Second Vatican Council, but that at the time irritated his superiors. In 1957 his archbishop, Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens, who had been a classmate, asked him not to publish any more books. Shortly after he was forced to resign as school director.
Between the professional affronts and his active life, Évely's health seriously deteriorated and he was directed to take a rest cure in the mountains in France, lasting several months. Upon completing his rest, instead of returning to Belgium, he became an oblate at the Cistercian Aiguebelle Abbey in Provence, France. Without taking monastic vows he took on the life of a monk: from chanting and praying, taking part in the manual work of the abbey as well as times of study and prayer. This contemplative life fully satisfied his mystical aspirations but, with the assistance of the abbot, he became aware that his true vocation was that of an evangelist. Thus he became an itinerant preacher in southwest France, helping the spiritual revival of parishes and directing retreats.
The way of speaking about faith introduced at Vatican II in the early 1960s by Pope John XXIII seemed to coincide with the style of preaching and writing that was by then Evely's trademark, but what he called the "Spring of the Church" proved disappointing. Evely faced many obstacles as his bishop refused him the imprimatur, a then-essential declaration for the publication of a book written by a priest. In contrast, translations of his works easily obtained the blessing of bishops worldwide.
After inner struggles he applied to be laicized or be relieved of the priesthood, which church authorities granted in the summer of 1967. This began a prolific period in which he produced and refined some his most highly regarded works, particularly those touching on the prayer of modern men and women.
Three years later, at the age of 60, Évely married a longtime friend, Mary, with whom he set up a home in Piégros-la-Clastre, a small village in Provence. There, little by little, he regained his preaching public, often including Protestants, in Alsace and Switzerland. In response to repeated requests, the Évely couple started a house of prayer, known as "L'Aube" (The Dawn) where still today a community runs spiritual exercises and training courses.
In the 1980s Evely felt his strength declining as his health waned, probably affected by a tropical disease contracted during a lecture tour in Africa. He died on 30 August 1985, a little before midnight, at the age of 75.
- That Man is You (1964)
- We Dare To Say Our Father (1966)
- The Word Of God: Homilies (1967)
- The Prayer of a Modern Man (1968)
- A Religion for Our Time (1969)
- The Gospels Without Myth: a Dramatic New Interpretation of the Gospels and Christian Dogma (1971)
- Suffering (1974)
- Teach Us How to Pray. (1974)
- Lovers in Marriage (1975)
- In the Christian spirit (1975)
- L'Aube, a spiritual centre founded by Louis Evely and his wife Mary in 1982 (in French)
- louisevely.com : the life and work of Louis Evely, and how his thought is still relevant in today's world (in French)
Dans l'amitié de Dieu – une invite à la prière avec Louis Evely, by Michel Barlow, Editions Ouverture, Lausanne, 2004.