My Discovery of Little Sister Magdeleine

The invitation

I must admit that I was somewhat hesitant when Little Sister Iris-Mary invited me to come and speak to you on the subject of Little Sister Magdeleine: firstly because I was reluctant to try and talk to you about your own foundress - to talk about someone whom I had never met to her sisters who had consecrated their lives to following her spiritual heritage and who knew her very much better than I, seemed to me, at very least, presumptuous. After all, if I managed in my book to capture a little of the person and the dynamic of Little Sister Magdeleine, it was very largely thanks to you and through you, her Little Sisters, that I came to know her.

Tre Fontane Tre Fontane I hesitated too, because of the need to express myself in French. Even in English I am much more of a writer than a speaker and, in endeavouring to express myself in French, I am very conscious of the fact that my limited knowledge of the language lacks subtlety. But, as you no doubt know very much better than I, Little Sister Iris-Mary is gifted with the art of persuasion. She managed to convince me that even if, in some respects, you knew your foundress very much better than I, I had discovered her in a different way, and that an external view, even a poorly expressed one, was not entirely worthless.
What I am about to offer you, therefore, is something of my own voyage of discovery in a land with which you are already familiar, so please bear with me as I try and share with you the progressive stages of my discovery of Little Sister Magdeleine and some more personal and subjective impressions than those included in my book.

In fact my first encounter with Little Sister Magdeleine took place at Taize. It was in 1985. I was researching my book on Brother Roger of Taize. We were together in his room and he was in the process of telling me about the early days of the community, when, suddenly, quite without explanation, he picked up a photograph he kept on his mantle piece and showed it to me. I looked at the image of a very elderly, shrunken woman, in her bed and I saw in it all the frailty of old age. At the same time I was struck by the strength and the light that still emanated from her expression. But Brother Roger said quite simply: 'Little Sister Magdeleine' as if those three words explained everything, replaced the photo on the mantle piece and went on talking about something completely different. Prior to that, I had never even heard of Little Sister Magdeleine.
A little later, however, Brother Roger mentioned her again. He quoted to me an extract from one of her letters in which she described her first visit to the new community of Taize in 1948, and referred to the Protestant Brothers who lived 'the spirituality of Brother Charles of Jesus and also wanted poverty'. She described the Brothers' intention, namely, 'to restore the Catholic religion by their example in the village', as 'a little surprising'.
The openness of Brother Roger's heart invariably manifests itself in a very positive vision of people, but the way in which he spoke of Little Sister Magdeleine exceeded even his usual generosity of spirit. It was obvious to me that intuitive, spontaneous, possessed of certain childlike qualities and an extraordinary vision of the heart, hence sometimes difficult to follow and comprehend, he had found in her a perfect understanding.