A summary of Rene Page's life

Following the death of our former Prior,Rene PageRene Page
from Michel in Ramonville (France)

I would like to describe, in a simple way, Rene's journey as a Little Brother of Jesus.
In September 1947, at the age of 24, Rene arrived at El-Abiodh Sidi Cheik, in the south of Oran, at the edge of the Sahara. Our Fraternity had its mother house and noviciate there. He came from the Saint-Sulpice seminary which at that time had, justifiably, a great reputation in the French ecclesiastical world. He had done four years of study there.
Before that, he had attended a succession of junior seminaries, and had taken on the 'soutane' (clerical robe) on March 3, 1940, at the age of just 16 and a half! I mention this fact, which he had bad memories about, because it affected his spontaneity and his natural ability to enter into relationships with others, primarily the friends of his own age that he had in his native village, a small market-town in the north of Deux-Sevres. This fact was probably not unrelated to the questioning that tormented him during the years in which people were asking themselves about "France – a mission country?" Should he be a worker-priest or a militant member of the Young Catholic Worker (JOC) movement? In 1946, an issue of the weekly journal Temoignage Chretien (Christian Witness) attracted his attention, and reading an article in it was a decisive factor in his orientation: it was about the Little Brothers, and, more precisely, about leaving their monastic context of El-Abiodh in order to seek their way in the world of work.
In October 1948, through his first religious vows, Rene committed himself before God in the Fraternity of the Little Brothers of Jesus, and he maintained in his heart a privileged place for Father de Foucauld.
Rene was then sent to the fraternity of Aix-en-Provence where he remained for two years. He worked in building and started to study the Russian language. In fact, when a brother reaches the time for his perpetual vows, he can ask to specify the gift of his life for the salvation of people in favour of a particular human environment or a particular people; and that has some very concrete consequences that sometimes require preparations long beforehand. Rene was thinking of environments under Marxist influence and even (in those times we were full of self-confidence!) of leaving for Soviet Russia. In the meantime, he needed to finish his theological studies (2 years) at the end of which he was ordained priest in June 1952; later he obtained permission to celebrate the liturgy according to the Oriental Melkite rite in Slavonic (the ancient Russian language).
The following year, 1953, he was in fraternity in Paris in order to continue his study of Russian, and he was appointed as Regional (brother in charge) for the fraternities of France and Belgium; he stayed there until 1963. During those years the Fraternity experienced a rapid growth which barely allowed for taking care of the "accumulation of responsibilities". I say this while thinking very particularly of Rene as Regional in 1953. In 1954, he was asked to take on also, right away, responsibility for the noviciate that we had on the isle of Saint-Gildas, near the Armorican coast.

in the 50s: Rene Voillaume, Little Sister Magdeleine, Rene and Yonahanin the 50s: Rene Voillaume, Little Sister Magdeleine, Rene and Yonahan
In the same year, the Fraternity held a General Chapter, the first since it had left El-Abiodh. Rene was elected to the council that assists the Prior. In this way he found himself in a position that made possible the service that the Prior asked of him four years later – to replace Brother Milad, for all practical purposes, in his position as Assistant, since Milad had been kept at El-Abiodh by the war that the south of Algeria was experiencing at that time.
Thus Rene joined the General Fraternity in Marseille. However, he asked not to be required to live there, and that was how a small fraternity began with him, one that later had a beautiful future in the north quarters of the city.
At the Chapter of 1960, he was elected as Assistant to the Prior. But even so, he had not finished with the fraternal service that positions in the Fraternity involve. He always took them on with the simplicity that we knew in him, with nothing of the 'great man' that can sometimes emerge with authority and responsibilities.
He remained very much himself, even in the distractions that one could make a long list of. I will mention just one: he had an appointment at the Vatican, he was in his way there, dressed as the etiquette required in the grey tunic that we wore in chapel; the Swiss guard on duty clicked their heels and presented arms with their halberds; Rene responded graciously with a magnificent military salute.
Being more serious, I will tell you two, or even three, things that struck me in his exercise of the responsibilities that fell to him. Firstly, an extreme respect for individual people, a respect that required a great deal of love and patience, even if this sometimes delayed the taking of a decision. In particularly delicate situations, he also had a sort of 'spiritual tact', as if he had a presentiment of realities that God alone sees because they are the fruits of his presence in the hearts of people. All that in no way diminished, even though he did not manifest it often, his potential for indignation in the face of some of our deficiencies, or those of the Church and the world of today.
In a letter dated Christmas 1965, Brother Rene Voillaume, our founder and our Prior from foundation onwards, told us of his desire to retire. In this way he indicated the future for the Chapter that was due to take place in the course of the following year. Rene was elected Prior, unanimously and on the first ballot. Although it is not always easy to assure a succession of this kind, the Fraternity continued to grow in size and dispersion, with more than fifty fraternities under the most diverse skies, which the Prior had to visit at least once during his mandate. That was how Rene made his first world tour. He made a second one because he was re-elected at the Chapter of 1972. This second priorate was more of a burden to him, notably because it began to wear him down, even to the detriment of his health; he also had to review and manage the organisation of the fraternities into Regions endowed with greater autonomy.
The Chapter of 1978 finally gave Rene his freedom, if one can put it like that.

After a period of rest, Rene, who was then 55 years old, went to Paris. He found a small apartment in the Pigalle district, on the same stairway as Ivar, a sailor brother who had sailed for years under the Norwegian flag. Place Pigalle in ParisPlace Pigalle in Paris He also found a job at the Bazaar de Hotel de Ville. Although he had many humerous memories from this time, it was a job that he did not like. At that time Paris lived in fear of attacks; at the entrance to the shop he had to check the bags of clients for explosives and watch out for thefts. After a year, with the help of a brother who worked there as a nurse, he was hired by the Foch de Suresnes hospital as a mail orderly in charge of the mail for the patients in hospital as well as for the doctors. He was very comfortable in this job full of human contact, but in the course of the fourth year there, an accident at work (a bad fracture of the right ankle) put an end to his career which was officially as a "postal agent".
When he was back on his feet, during the summer of 1984, Rene went to Toulouse. In the shadow of the Dominican convent where so many brothers had done their theology studies, we still had a small fraternity which moved, two years after his arrival, to Ramonville. So it was there that Rene lived his retirement. In the ordinary context of daily life, of which he was some sort of a master, and where God awaits us, he provided various services, he took on in his own way what we might call our 'public relations' and, more warmly, relations in the neighbourhood; and he welcomed friends and visiting brothers. He provided fraternal assistance in a regular way to the Jesus Caritas Secular Institute, and he took part in meetings of the older "Teams of Our Lady" in Toulouse.
At the end of the century, several heart problems occurred as a wake-up call. He was operated on (bypasses) in 2000. After that, little by little he showed some small difficulties in behaviour which we came to understand a little later: the illness that darkened his life was already at work. I do not believe it is helpful to dwell on it; that would not be right. Every illness that affects a person in the deepest, most intimate part of himself, is a particularly scandalous form of the evil in the world; we find ourselves before a mystery which is to be respected.
For a long time Rene maintained his beautiful and lovely smile for those who visited him. He also gave us enough signs, sometimes even a few words, that assured us that, alone in his darkness, he was before God and with God. That is what he now lives in the fullness of light.