My Discovery of Little Sister Magdeleine

Little Sister Magdeleine's humanity and pain

Little Sister Magdeleine had known hardships and suffering and at a certain level she did not conceal her pain. ‘I was constantly ill', she wrote at the beginning ofher book, 'and nothing about me suggested the future foundress of a congregation.' 'We belong to the same large family of sick people' she said to the patients in the sanatoria during her lecture tour in 1941, 'Like you, I have known those long periods of anguish during which everything is called into question, in which even more than the body which is so heavy, your heart and soul suffer because you have not yet understood that illness, suffering, far from being sterile,are sometimes the most marvellous and fruitful way of serving and have yearned so much to give your life to something big and beautiful.' At least by the time she gave her talks, it seemed that she had recognised suffering as the medicine that can deepen our humanity. She understood compassion in the full meaning of the word - to suffer with - so it was to have palm trunks in the courtyard at Sidi Boujnan destined to be used in the ongoing construction work, while her Arab friends had no wood with which to heat their tea, became intolerable for her.
She did not hesitate to describe the pain she felt on witnessing the wretchedness amongst the nomads, nor her fatigue when, for example, in December 1941, she wrote from Sidi Boujnan to her Little Sisters at le Tubet: ' I am coming to you, tired, so tired'. And yet she was someone who could hide her feelings. Each time she had to leave her Little Sisters at le Tubet, she suffered deeply, she admitted in her book, but she put up a display of joy so that they would not notice her distress. Only later, when she was all by herself and loneliness suddenly overcame her, did she sit down by the side of the road and weep.
I was touched by Little Sister Magdeleine's humanity. I was touched too when, in August 1944, she was taken for a spy. Finding herself confronted by four guns, the woman who wanted to be so faithful to the spirit of her 'Little Brother Charles', found herself protesting:

'To think that I am from Lorraine, that my grandmother was massacred and my two brothers killed during the 1914 war and now you want to shoot me as a spy... I am not afraid of death, but this sort of death is too hard.'
No sooner had she spoken these words than she reproached herself for them. Nothing should have seemed too hard to a faithful disciple of Brother Charles of Jesus following Christ along the way of Calvary to the point of abjection on the cross. She had, she insisted, missed a marvellous opportunity for perfect joy in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi. She had betrayed the very desire for martyrdom and paradise, which she so frequently expressed, even whilst insisting immediately afterwards that life was beautiful and that she loved it so much. For me, however, this honesty, this human weakness was more appealing than her competence.
    Little Sister Magdeleine was manifestly someone who saw things through to the very end, with audacity and courage. I could perhaps admire her aspiration to martyrdom and the courage which made her brave the bombings and the gunfire. I could admire her reaffirmation of Charles de Foucauld's conviction that 'fear is a sign of duty', and her desire to put into practice his direction that 'when one sets out to do something one should not return without having done it'.
But it was her admission that even whilst being so courageous she was afraid, that inspired my affection. ‘I am terribly afraid, but I climb aboard any way', she wrote when, in order to reach her Little Sisters in Lyon, she was obliged to cross the German lines in a lorry.
It was in the light of this affection that I was able later to accept the demands of Little Sister Magdeleine and ideas which I might otherwise have rejected. And I made a note of her capacity to engage people's hearts.