My Discovery of Little Sister Magdeleine

By their fruits you shall know them

This was the first time that I was to write about the life of someone I had never met. My difficulties were compounded by this fact. What someone says to you, tells you as much about the speaker as about the subject. Normally, to at least attempt to remove the subjectivity of my interlocutor, I have my own memories of the subject to act as a kind of litmus paper. This time, I was without all the multitude of impressions, conscious and unconscious, formed during a physical encounter: impressions of what the subject says or does not say, of the rhythm of his or her words or silences, of his presence alone, of all his body language.

I was shown photographs of Little Sister Magdeleine and saw in them someone much larger and more robust looking than I had hitherto imagined.
I looked at her playing with animals and the affinity was almost tangible.
I saw her seated with Mother Teresa, the two foundresses together and I found myself wondering whether if in a conversation with her as with Mother Teresa, while the talk was of something banal, something much deeper was at work.
I was shown a film of Little Sister Magdeleine working on the building sites at Tre Fontane and was struck by the energy and authority of her physical presence.
But, above all, I missed her voice. Never totally at ease with the inadequacy of words and their potential for distortion, and conscious perhaps that her own spontaneity might play tricks on her, this woman who accepted that photographs of her should be on display in all the fraternities, had not apparently wanted her voice recorded.
Later a single cassette was found for me. It was the voice of Little Sister Magdeleine in her old age, a broken voice talking about the distinction on which she insisted between dancing and 'farandole'.
It was something, but as I began my research, it seemed to me somehow significant that I could not hear the voice of someone who, I sensed, had not really sought to find the words to explain an essential part of her existence.
Many things that should have been obvious to me were not as yet. 'By their fruits shall ye know them' (Mt 7.16). The most obvious fruit was the Fraternity: the warmth of welcome and, above all, the smiles. The effect of such an array of smiles on one arriving from another milieu where the stranger is rarely greeted with a smile was captivating, and it, like so many other things, was a reflection of the priorities, intuition and perspicacity of your foundress.
It is true that by examining the 'fruits' of her life, quite concrete things, I expected to glimpse a reflection of Little Sister Magdeleine, but I had not anticipated quite to what extent she had sought to express herself through these tangible things.
Yet this was the key one Little Sister offered me on the second day of my visit, when she told me that 'even in the construction of Tre Fontane, Little Sister Magdeleine had sought to express something'. I began to look at the General Fraternity in a slightly different way. Its location in Rome, the simplicity and beauty of the barrack huts and the chapels, the proximity of the fraternity to the Luna Park, the presence of friends at Mass, the workshop, the innumerable drawers, the successive editions of the Constitutions so carefully ranged, the council room with the map of the fraternities, the photos of Little Sisters who had already gone to Paradise, the round table and the Statue of Our Lady of the Whole World... like places, it seemed, tangible things could speak.