6 - In memory of Rene Voillaume 1905 -2003, Brother Rene Voillaume and Little sister Magdeleine

Brother Marc writes: 'Fifty years of close collaboration' is the title that Little Sister Annie, of the Little Sisters of Jesus, gave to the text that follows. What she wrote expresses the facts very well, but does not take account of the deep and reciprocal affection which, over this long period, linked Father Voillaume to the Little Sisters. This was also brought out into the light by the fraternal attention and female sensitivity with which they helped him during his last years. We will never be able to thank them sufficiently.


Brother Rene and Little sister MagdeleineBrother Rene and Little sister Magdeleine

It was at El Golea, in the middle of the Sahara, that they met for the first time, at the tomb of Charles de Foucauld on March 19th 1938. Little Sister Magdeleine immediately felt full of confidence even though the welcome by Father Voillaume was rather reserved. They were so different!

A few years later, Little Sister Magdeleine wrote to him about this:

"We have two totally different temperaments, two methods of working. I believe that that is neither your fault nor mine! it is the Lord who wants it this way. We should not want to be like each other, that would be a catastrophe for us both! The Lord has brought us together for something very great."

What united them deeply beyond these differences was a deep spiritual communion. In November 1944, at the end of a week spent together at El Abiodh, Little Sister Magdeleine wrote to Father Voillaume:

"I have never received such graces since the beginning of the foundation. I believe that it was the soul of Brother Charles that was revealed during this encounter."
A month later, it was Father Voillaume who wrote to Little Sister Magdeleine,
"It seems to me that, more and more, we need to be deeply united and that our two foundations should support one another, living out the same spirit."

Little Sister Magdeleine, who felt the need to give the Little Sisters a spirituality drawn from the source of the life and message of Brother Charles, was convinced that Father Voillaume had the charism to translate it into a modern and evangelical language. So, from 1946 onwards, it was to him that she entrusted the spiritual formation of the Little Sisters, through sessions that took place first in El Abiodh, then in Rome.

1953 Alaska,  Fr Voillaume with Little sister Magdeleine1953 Alaska, Fr Voillaume with Little sister Magdeleine

In 1953, Little Sister Magdeleine undertook a long journey round the world, in order to start communities in every country, and she invited Father Voillaume to this adventure! He recognised that he was "one who followed and that Little Sister Magdeleine was one who led".He also recognised that he himself would never have dreamed of this trip; however, he added:

"It was the concrete expression and the setting up, if I can put it that way, of universality conceived of as an openness to different races and to different peoples."

As the years went by, their affection and trust deepened; Little Sister Magdeleine notes at the end of a day spent with Father Voillaume:

"It is mainly a question of our plans for new foundations. There is no divergence, except that our two brains are not alike, and brains are well-known to have an influence on the methods used. But Father Voillaume has extraordinary goodness and patience.

More than ever we see that there is a profound unity between us and that our discussions were helped me to define my thinking. I find in his letters an inexhaustible mine of texts that again emphasise this unity on what makes up the essential basis of our vocation."

1989 Father Voillaume  presides the funeral Mass for Little sister Magdeleine1989 Father Voillaume presides the funeral Mass for Little sister Magdeleine

A few months before her death, Little Sister Magdeleine, despite her very poor health, envisaged a last journey to the USSR. And at that time it was Father Voillaume who encouraged here to take the step:

"You have never been more in the hands of the Lord than for this journey. It is not tempting God because he has always guided you and accompanied you on these journeys which, in human terms' are unreasonable. The weaker and more incapable you are physically, the more only the hand of Jesus is guiding your ship, you fear nothing other than what he wishes."

This was a path of abandonment which he lived himself, at the end of his long life, in weakness and dependence, an ultimate preparation for the encounter with the Beloved whom they sought passionately all through their lives.