The Green Booklet and the Renewal of Religious Life


Little Sister Magdeleine was all the more upset by the uproar provoked by this "Testament" because she had nothing to do with its publication. The review "Vie Spirituelle" had taken the initiative without her knowledge.

This is how things happened. Between September 10 and October 5, 1945, Little Sister Magdeleine wrote for the Little Sisters what now constitutes the "Green Booklet".

"I insist in particular on 'the leaven in the dough' which I call 'my testament' and which explains our new form of religious life. It is not a religious life led apart from the world, but inconspicuously present in the very heart of humanity in order to be one with people ".

She entrusted the pages that she has just hurriedly written to the Little Sisters at the Tubet,

"asking them not to show them to anyone. But they nevertheless made the mistake of showing this draft copy to Father Monier during one of his visits. He was very happy with it, had it typed and mimeographed by the Mission de France in Lisieux ".

Providential mistake! Father Monier was someone special for the Little Sisters. This Jesuit was a famous master of spiritual life and though he was at the time at the centre of the misunderstanding, he was and remained a precious friend and great admirer of the Fraternity until his death in 1977.

The text which continued to circulate landed on the desk of Father Henry, the Dominican who directed the "Vie Spirituelle". He thought it very natural that he publish it in the magazine.

Having been informed, Little Sister Magdeleine sent telegrams and letters to prevent its publication, but it was too late. We have already seen what a storm its publication raised! At the request of Little Sister Magdeleine, the November 1946 issue would at least give readers the part of the Green Booklet which had been omitted in April.

A year later, Little Sister Magdeleine would have the satisfaction of noting that "Ecclesia", the illustrated monthly magazine published by the Vatican, would reproduce the articles printed in "Vie Spirituelle" preceding them with a favourable introduction.

And that is how the Christian public discovered the text which aroused such widespread interest in the Church.

After the Council

With the Council spectacular transformations occurred in most religious congregations. Today they present an image which does not allow young people to realize the newness of the concepts contained in the Green Booklet. I think, for example of the relationship between religious and their families.

Little Sister Magdeleine was fully aware of just how new her ideas were. Thus in 1948 she wrote to Father Voillaume:

"I feel the weight of the immense responsibility I bear of a new congregation... of a new religious spirit".
And after the Council, she told the Little Sisters:
"Re-read the words of my 'testament'. It goes back to 1945, but it is even more relevant today than it was at that time when it seemed revolutionary". (1970).

Little Sister Magdeleine had unleashed a movement in the Church. As her former novice mistress with the White Sisters wrote to her in 1968:

"Fresh sap rises from the depths that you have ploughed and seeded, and you will see the fruit multiply not only in your own, but in many institutes who look in your direction".

In Vatican circles, at that time, many shared this point of view, as seen in this letter from Father Heston, secretary of the Congregation for religious:

"I believe that one can say that certain aspects of your vocation, your religious life and the activity of your congregation have a continual and living impact on the Church. A congregation that is both consecrated to non-organized apostolic activities and consecrated in a deep and abundant way to the contemplative life really gives one something to think about in today's world".

Religious congregations caught up with their "aggiornamento" were not always aware of journeying along a path opened up by Little Sister Magdeleine. Certain Superiors have written to me saying that, in their renewal they were influenced neither by Little Sister Magdeleine nor by the lifestyle of the Little Sisters, and that they were totally unaware of the Green Booklet. The Spirit, like the wind, blows and no one knows where it comes from!

One must acknowledge that many of the important changes that religious life then underwent are in resonance with Little Sister Magdeleine's intuitions.

"We are still young", she would say to her Little Sisters, "and thanks to Little Brother Charles of Jesus, we have been permeated right from our birth with the spirit of the Council".

After the death of Little Sister Magdeleine, many testimonies underlined the important role she played in the history of the contemporary Church. I will only quote a few.

"Religious life today owes her much; she was not just for the family she founded but for us too, a source of inspiration, a call to renewal and to return to the origins and to the charism of our own foundress".

From another congregation:

"We owe her much. She opened breaches, new roads on which we were able to embark... very slowly but surely."
And finally, a superior general:
"In drawing so many women to live with and like the poor, the most despised and the marginalized, in setting them to follow Jesus in the radicality of the Gospel, Little Sister Magdeleine was a prophet and forerunner both for the Church and for religious life. She not only marked the life of numerous feminine congregations but many masculine ones as well; and for this we are grateful to her."