Charles de Foucauld

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Charles de Foucauld

Circa 1907
BornCharles Eugène de Foucauld de Pontbriand
(1858-09-15)15 September 1858
Strasbourg, Second French Empire
Died1 December 1916(1916-12-01) (aged 58)
Tamanrasset, French Algeria
Venerated inCatholic Church
Anglican Communion[1]
Beatified13 November 2005, Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins
Canonized15 May 2022, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope Francis
Feast1 December
Attributeswhite religious habit with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, crowned with a cross

Charles Eugène de Foucauld de Pontbriand, PFJ (15 September 1858 – 1 December 1916) was a French soldier, explorer, geographer, ethnographer, Catholic priest and hermit who lived among the Tuareg people in the Sahara in Algeria. He was assassinated in 1916. His inspiration and writings led to the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus, among other religious congregations.

Orphaned at the age of six, de Foucauld was brought up by his maternal grandfather, Colonel Beaudet de Morlet. He undertook officer training at the Saint-Cyr Military Academy. Upon graduating from the academy he opted to join the cavalry. Ordained in Viviers in 1901,[2] he decided to settle in the Algerian Sahara at Béni Abbès. His ambition was to form a new congregation, but nobody joined him. Taking the religious name Charles of Jesus, he lived with the Berbers, adopting a new apostolic approach, preaching not through sermons, but through his example.

On 1 December 1916, de Foucauld was assassinated at his hermitage. He was quickly considered to be a martyr of faith[3][4] and was the object of veneration following the success of the biography written by René Bazin. New religious congregations, spiritual families, and a renewal of eremitic life are inspired by Charles de Foucauld's life and writings. His beatification process started in 1927 eleven years after his death. He was declared Venerable on 24 April 2001 by Pope John Paul II, then Blessed on 13 November 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. On 27 May 2020, the Vatican announced that a miracle had been attributed to de Foucauld's intercession.[5] De Foucauld was canonized as a saint by Pope Francis on 15 May 2022 in Rome.


De Foucauld's hermitage, built in 1911 on the Assekrem (2780 m)


De Foucauld's family was originally from the Périgord region of France and part of the old French nobility; their motto being Jamais arrière ("Never behind").[6] Several of his ancestors took part in the crusades,[7] a source of prestige within the French nobility. His great-great-uncle, Armand de Foucauld de Pontbriand, a vicar general and first cousin of the archbishop of Arles, Monseigneur Jean Marie du Lau d'Allemans, as well as the archbishop himself, were victims of the September massacres that took place during the French Revolution.[6] His mother, Élisabeth de Morlet, was from the Lorraine aristocracy[6] whilst his grandfather had made a fortune during the revolution as a republican.[8] Élisabeth de Morlet married the viscount Édouard de Foucauld de Pontbriand, a forest inspector, in 1855.[9]

On 17 July 1857, their first child Charles was born, and died one month later.[6] Their second son, whom they named Charles Eugène, was born in Strasbourg on 15 September 1858[9] in the family house on Place Broglie at what was previously mayor Dietrich's mansion, where La Marseillaise was sung for the first time, in 1792.[6]

A few months after his birth, his father was transferred to Wissembourg. In 1861, Charles was three and a half years old when his sister, Marie-Inès-Rodolphine, was born.[6] His profoundly religious mother educated him in the Catholic faith, steeped in acts of devotion and piety.[6] She died following miscarriage[9] on 13 March 1864, followed by her husband who suffered from neurasthenia, on 9 August.[6] The now orphaned Charles (age 6) and his sister Marie (age 3) were put in the care of their paternal grandmother, Viscountess Clothilde de Foucauld, who died of a heart attack shortly afterwards.[9][8]

The children were then taken in by their maternal grandparents, Colonel Beaudet de Morlet and his wife, who lived in Strasbourg. De Morlet, an alumnus of the École Polytechnique and engineering officer, provided his grandchildren with an affectionate upbringing. Charles wrote of him: "My grandfather whose beautiful intelligence I admired, whose infinite tenderness surrounded my childhood and youth with an atmosphere of love, the warmth of which I still feel emotionally."[8]

Charles pursued his studies at the Saint-Arbogast episcopal school, and went to Strasbourg high school in 1868.[9] At the time an introvert and short-tempered,[9] he was often ill and pursued his education thanks to private tuition.[6]

He spent the summer of 1868 with his aunt, Inès Moitessier, who felt responsible for her nephew. Her daughter, Marie Moitessier (later Marie de Bondy), eight years older than Charles, became fast friends with him.[9] She was a fervent churchgoer who was very close to Charles, sometimes acting as a maternal figure for him.[6]

In 1870 the de Morlet family fled the Franco-Prussian War and found refuge in Bern. Following the French defeat, the family moved to Nancy in October 1871.[6][9] Charles had four years of secular highschool left.[9] Jules Duvaux was a teacher of his,[9][6] and he bonded with fellow student Gabriel Tourdes.[9] Both students had a passion for classical literature,[8] and Gabriel remained, according to Charles, one of the "two incomparable friends" of his life.[8] His education in a secular school developed nurtured patriotic sentiment, alongside a mistrust for the German Empire.[9] His First Communion took place on 28 April 1872, and his confirmation at the hands of Monseigneur Joseph-Alfred Foulon in Nancy followed shortly thereafter.[8]

In October 1873, when he was 15, whilst in a Rhetoric class, he began to distance himself from the faith before becoming agnostic.[9] He later affirmed, "The philosophers are all in discord. I spent twelve years not denying and believing nothing, despairing of the truth, not even believing in God. No proof to me seemed evident."[10] This loss of the faith was accompanied by uneasiness; Charles found himself to be "all selfishness, all impiousness, all evil desire, I was as though distraught".[11][8]

On 11 April 1874, his cousin Marie married Olivier de Bondy.[9] A few months later, on 12 August 1874, Charles obtained his baccalauréat with the distinction "mention bien" (equivalent to magna cum laude).[9]

A dissipated youth[edit]

Charles was sent to the Sainte-Geneviève school (now located in Versailles), run by the Jesuits, at that time located in the Latin Quarter of Paris, in order to prepare the admission test for the Saint-Cyr Military Academy.[9] Charles was opposed to the strictness of the boarding school and decided to abandon all religious practice. He obtained his second baccalauréat in August 1875.[6] He led a dissipated lifestyle at that point in time and was expelled from the school for being "lazy and undisciplined"[12] in March 1876.[9]

He then returned to Nancy, where he studied tutoring whilst secretly perusing light readings.[9][6] During his readings with Gabriel Tourdes, he wanted to "completely enjoy that which is pleasant to the mind and body".[13][6] This reading introduced the two students to the works of Aristotle, Voltaire, Erasmus, Rabelais and Laurence Sterne.[8]

In June 1876, he applied for entrance to the Saint-Cyr Military Academy, and was accepted eighty-second out of four hundred and twelve.[6] He was one of the youngest in his class.[9] His record at Saint-Cyr was a mixed one and he graduated 333rd out of a class of 386.[14]

The death of Foucauld's grandfather and the receipt of a substantial inheritance, was followed by his entry into the French cavalry school at Saumur. Continuing to lead an extravagant life style, Foucauld was posted to the 4th Regiment of Chasseurs d'Afrique in Algeria. Bored with garrison service he travelled in Morocco (1883–84), the Sahara (1885), and Palestine (1888–89). While reverting to being a wealthy young socialite when in Paris, Foucauld became an increasingly serious student of the geography and culture of Algeria and Morocco. In 1885 the Societe de Geographie de Paris awarded him its gold medal in recognition of his exploration and research.[15]

Religious life[edit]

On 14 January 1890, de Foucauld entered the Trappist monastery of Notre-Dame des Neiges, where he received, as a novice, the religious name Marie-Albéric on the feast of St. Alberic, 26 January. According to a plea which he sent to the abbot prior to his entrance in Notre-Dame des Neiges, after some months of novitiate Br. Marie-Albéric was sent to the abbey of La Trappe at Akbès on the Syrian-Turkish border.[16] But despite the strict life of the Trappists according to their vow of poverty, de Foucauld considered the life of the residents in the surrounding villages to be more miserable.

In 1897, after seven years, he therefore left the order began to lead a life of prayer near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth where he worked as a porter and servant.[17] After some time, it was suggested to him that he be ordained, so he returned to Akbès for some time in order to prepare for the ordination to the priesthood. On 9 June 1901, at the age of 43, he received the ordination in Viviers, France.[citation needed]

After that, he went to the Sahara in French Algeria and continued to live an eremitical lifestyle. At that time he adopted the religious name Charles of Jesus.[18] He first settled in Béni Abbès, near the Moroccan border, building a small hermitage for "adoration and hospitality", which he soon referred to as the "fraternity" and both himself and the future members as "little brothers" of Jesus.[19]

De Foucauld moved to be with the Tuareg people, in Tamanghasset in southern Algeria. This region is the central part of the Sahara with the Ahaggar Mountains (the Hoggar) immediately to the west. Foucauld used the highest point in the region, the Assekrem, as a place of retreat. Living close to the Tuareg and sharing their life and hardships, he made a ten-year study of their language and cultural traditions. He learned the Tuareg language and worked on a dictionary and grammar. His dictionary manuscript was published posthumously in four volumes and has become known among Berberologists for its rich and apt descriptions.[citation needed]


Tomb of Charles de Foucauld in El Ménia, Algeria

On 1 December 1916, de Foucauld was dragged from his hermitage by a group of tribal raiders led by El Madani ag Soba, who was connected with the Senussi Bedouin. They intended to kidnap de Foucauld. However they were interrupted by two Méharistes of the French Camel Corps. One startled bandit (15-year-old Sermi ag Thora) shot de Foucauld through the head, killing him instantly. The Méharistes were also shot dead.[20] The murder was witnessed by sacristan and servant Paul Embarek, an African Arab former slave liberated and instructed by de Foucauld.[21] The Islamic Tuareg people burying him the morning after his death is evidence of de Foucauld's friendship with them.[22]

The French authorities continued for years searching for the bandits involved. In 1943 El Madani fled French forces in Libya to the remote South Fezzan. Sermi ag Thora was apprehended and executed at Djanet in 1944.[23]

In April 1929, the mortal remains of Charles de Foucauld were transferred to the oasis of El Meniaa to a tomb in the cemetery near the local parish of St. Joseph.[citation needed]


De Foucauld was beatified by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins on 13 November 2005, on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI.[24][25][a]

On 27 May 2020, Pope Francis issued a decree which approved a second miracle clearing the way for de Foucauld to be canonized.[27][28] On 4 March 2022, a papal consistory opened the way for the canonization and set the date for the canonization ceremony to 15 May 2022, together with a number of others including Titus Brandsma.[29] His feast is on 1 December; the liturgical colour is white.[30]

Religious communities inspired by de Foucauld[edit]

De Foucauld inspired and helped to organize a confraternity within France in support of his ideas. This organization, the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, consisted of 48 lay and ordained members at the time of his death. Members of this group, notably Louis Massignon, a scholar of Islam, and René Bazin, author of a biography, La Vie de Charles de Foucauld Explorateur en Maroc, Ermite du Sahara (1923), kept his memory alive and inspired the family of lay and religious fraternities. Though French in origin, these groups have expanded to include many cultures and their languages on every populated continent. The Charles de Foucauld Spiritual Family Association brings together the Little Brothers of Jesus, the Little Sisters of Jesus and 18 other religious orders and associations for priests, religious and laypeople which were inspired by him.[31]

List of religious communities inspired by Charles de Foucauld
Type of community Name of community (year of foundation)
Mixed For men For women
Associations of the faithful
Religious institutes
Societies of apostolic life
Secular institutes
  • Missionaries of Jesus the Servant[32] (1979[33] or 1982[34])


The 1936 French film The Call of Silence depicted his life.[36]

In 1950, the colonial Algerian government issued a postage stamp with his image. The French government did the same in 1959.[citation needed]

Antonello Padovano wrote and directed the film "The Four Doors of the Desert" based on Charles de Foucauld life and his friendship with the Tuareg Amenokal Moussa Ag Amastan.[37]

Charles de Foucauld is honored in the Church of England and in the Episcopal Church on 1 December.[38][39]


  • Reconnaissance au Maroc, 1883–1884. 4 vols. Paris: Challamel, 1888.
  • Dictionnaire Touareg–Français, Dialecte de l'Ahaggar. 4 vols. Paris: Imprimerie nationale de France, 1951–1952.
  • Poésies Touarègues. Dialecte de l'Ahaggar. 2 vols. Paris: Leroux, 1925–1930.


  1. ^ Pope Benedict XVI changed the procedure for beatification such that the pope no longer presides at beatification ceremonies, but instead the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.[26]


  1. ^ "The Spirituality of Charles de Foucauld". 27 May 2020. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Bienheureux Charles de Foucauld – Eglise Catholique en Ardèche". Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  3. ^ "The saintly model of Charles de Foucauld".
  4. ^ "Charles de Foucauld, Monastic and Martyr, 1916".
  5. ^ "Church promulgates new decrees for causes of saints", Vatican News, 27 May 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Vircondelet, Alain (1997). Charles de Foucauld, comme un agneau parmi des loups. Monaco: Le Rocher (éditions). ISBN 978-2-268-02661-9.
  7. ^ Maxence, Jean-Luc (2004). L'Appel au désert, Charles de Foucauld, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Saint-Armand-Montrond: Presses de la Renaissance. ISBN 978-2-85616-838-7.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Six, Jean-François (2008). Charles de Foucauld autrement. France: Desclée de Brouwer. ISBN 978-2-220-06011-8.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Antier, Jean-Jacques (2005). Charles de Foucauld. Paris: Editions Perrin. ISBN 978-2-262-01818-4.
  10. ^ Letter from Charles de Foucauld to Henri de Castries on 14 August 1901, translated from French; orig.: "Les philosophes sont tous en désaccord. Je demeurai douze ans sans nier et sans rien croire, désespérant de la vérité, ne croyant même pas en Dieu. Aucune preuve ne me paraissait évidente"
  11. ^ Letter from Charles de Foucauld to Marie de Castries on 17 April 1892, translated from French; orig.: "tout égoïsme, toute impiété, tout désir de mal, j'étais comme affolé"
  12. ^ Translated from French, orig.: "paresse et indiscipline"
  13. ^ Translated from French, orig.: "jouir d'une façon complète de ce qui est agréable au corps et à l'esprit"
  14. ^ Fleming, Fergus (2003). The Sword and the Cross: Two Men and an Empire of Sand. New York: Grove Press. p. 23 ISBN 9780802117526.
  15. ^ Fleming, Fergus (2003). The Sword and the Cross: Two Men and an Empire of Sand. New York: Grove Press. p. 58 ISBN 9780802117526.
  16. ^ René Bazin, Charles de Foucauld – Hermit and Explorer, Benziger Bros., New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, 1923, pp. 90 ff.
  17. ^ René Bazin, Charles de Foucauld – Hermit and Explorer, Benziger Bros., New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, 1923, pp. 132 ff.
  18. ^ René Bazin, Charles de Foucauld – Hermit and Explorer, Benziger Bros., New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, 1923, pp. 139 et al.
  19. ^ René Bazin, Charles de Foucauld – Hermit and Explorer, Benziger Bros., New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, 1923, p. 184 et al
  20. ^ Fleming, Fergus (2003). The Sword and the Cross: Two Men and an Empire of Sand. New York: Grove Press. pp. 279–280. ISBN 9780802117526.
  21. ^ Fremantle, Anne, Desert Calling: The Life of Charles de Foucauld, London: Hollis & Carter, 1950, pp324-6
  22. ^ Kathleen of Jesus, Little Sister (25 February 2019). The Universal Brother: Charles de Foucauld speaks to us today. New City Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-1565486461.
  23. ^ Fremantle, Anne, Desert Calling: The Life of Charles de Foucauld London: Hollis & Carter, 1950, p.328
  24. ^ "Charles de Foucauld beatified in Rome". CathNews. 14 November 2005. Archived from the original on 9 March 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  25. ^ (12 November 2005). "Charles de Foucauld to be beatified tomorrow at St Peter's". GIAPPONE Tokyo, tolti i limiti a viaggi e intrattenimento. Covid-19 sotto controllo. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  26. ^ Martins, José Saraiva (29 September 2005). "New procedures in the Rite of Beatification". Vatican. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  27. ^ "Pope clears way to sainthood for three, advances causes of others". 27 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Who was Charles de Foucauld?".
  29. ^ Catholic News Agency
  30. ^ "Calendrier liturgique — Diocese of Oran (2022)".
  31. ^ The Central Minnesota Catholic, Pope: Focus on the essential like St. Charles de Foucauld did, Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "The Spiritual Family | Brother Charles De Foucauld". Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Piccoli Fratelli di Jesus Caritas – Famiglia Spirituale" (in Italian). Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Quelques Dates". (in French). Archived from the original on 10 November 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  35. ^ "Quarantacinque anni di storia… – Discepole del Vangelo" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 22 November 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  36. ^ Portuge, Catherine (1996). "Le Colonial Féminin: Women Directors Interrogate French Cinema". In Sherzer, Dina (ed.). Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism: Perspectives from the French and Francophone Worlds. University of Texas Press. p. 97. ISBN 9780292777033. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  37. ^ "Vimeo".
  38. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  39. ^ Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018. Church Publishing, Inc. 17 December 2019. ISBN 978-1-64065-235-4.

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