4. He does it all. I follow

The first General Chapter of the Little Sisters of Jesus opened on September 8, 1954. Little sister Jeanne was elected Prioress General along with two assistant generals and nine general counselors who were in charge of various groups of regions. Bishop de Provencheres who had, since 1946, closely followed every step as the Congregation developed presided at the Chapter. Little sister Magdeleine had always consulted him when important decisions had to be made. Despite the fact that he knew only too well all the weaknesses and shortcomings of the little sisters he encouraged them on. He wrote to little sister Magdeleine:

"Even after you are more organized you will still be poor people who receive everything you need from your heavenly Father, day after day and drop by drop. ...I think you need to quickly sow far and wide and allow the communities to be fragile so that it remains clear that it is the work of the Lord. We must, of course, remain ever docile and humble before every sign that God sends that might point us in another direction. I do not think that that is the case for the moment. So keep on until the end."

As the colonies in Africa and Asia began to struggle for their independence the little sisters often found themselves in the midst of conflict. Little sister Magdeleine encouraged them to be at peace and to understand the context in which they lived:

"Wherever you are, be elements of peace and unity. Never forget that a harsh word spoken in a moment of anger in your home can be used by someone who has overheard it as weapon and lead even to murder. At the same time you must know how to stand up. In North .Africa, for example, know how to take sides with those who believe in the rights for independence..."

Because of the instability of the situation in Algeria the yearly sessions of El Abiodh were moved to Rome. The first of these sessions was held at Castel Gandolfo in October of 1955 with over 200 little sisters. The session ended with an audience with Pius XII who encouraged them greatly.

1956 Tre Fontane foundation1956 Tre Fontane foundation

Ever since the foundation little sister Magdeleine had struggled with those who considered the congregation to be a French foundation. She insisted that it was international. For that reason she wanted to move the General House, as well an international novitiate, to Rome as soon as possible. After much searching, in December of 1956 she found what she was looking for in a eucalyptus grove on the grounds of the Trappist Monastery of Tre Fontane thanks to the goodness of the Abbot, Dom Dominico Turco. The Abbey was situated near the place where St Paul had been beheaded.

Behind the Iron Curtain

As little sister Magdeleine studied the map she was irresistibly drawn by the Marxist Eastern European countries that were unknown to her.   She looked for a way to gain access to them, and especially to the U.S.S.R. With the agreement of Bishop de Provencheres and the encouragement of Pius XII little by little a plan evolved. As with all of her other travels she allowed the Lord to guide the way, even to planning to remain on the "other side" permanently... despite her fear of the concentration camps.

The only way that one could enter these countries was as a tourist. In order to have freedom of movement and, at the same time not to compromise people with whom she would have otherwise sought lodging, they fixed a van into a camper that they called the "Shooting Star". They lived and slept in it as the surveillance was less intense in the campgrounds than in the hotels.

1956 On the road to Eastern Europe1956 On the road to Eastern Europe

It was 1956 that she first traveled to Hungary, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, On her return she wrote:

" We do not want to judge what we heard and saw. That is not our job. Our role is to love every person whom we meet along the way and to become friends with the good as well as the bad, with ally or enemy.

...We saw beautiful and less beautiful things and we saw reason to be hopeful. We saw people who pray fervently and we made our pilgrimages to Our Lady, stopping in every church where there was a shrine to her. She is the most powerful seed of hope in all of this. "

In October, 1956 she made a pilgrimage to Fatima to pray especially for all of the Eastern European countries. She asked all of the novices to pray with her:

"We must pray lovingly. Accusations and hatred should be kept for evil and errors and never directed towards people, no matter how guilty they may seem. The world will be saved through love. "

The following year she left for Russia thinking that she would never return. She first went to Poland where she was warmly welcomed by several religious communities. A deep friendship would be woven with them over the years. In the home of friends in Krakow she met a young priest, Fr. Karol Woytila (the future Pope John Paul II). Visa problems caused her to return to Rome unexpectedly. The little sisters were stupefied to see her arrive and joyously welcomed her.

1971 Reglesbrun Austria1971 Reglesbrun Austria

After this Bishop de Provencheres asked that she not plan on going to Russia definitively any more but to share her time between Eastern Europe and her service to the little sisters who still needed her presence. She kept this rhythm of six months for each until she died.

A more arduous road

On the morning of October 9, 1958, having just arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, little sister Magdeleine learned of the death of Pius XII. She was deeply saddened:

"I will never forget that we owe it all to him. Without his approval and encouragement, without having been able to speak directly with him and write to him every year, we would never have been able to develop as we did..."

When John XXIII was elected on October 28, 1958 she wrote in her diary:

"My heart is torn between sorrow and joy; sorrow to never again see Pius XII standing in that window at St. Peter's, joy that the Church goes on and that the Holy Spirit will inspire the newly elected Pope with all that the world needs for today."

Pius XII had been so understanding and supportive of little sister Magdeleine throughout the foundation and expansion of the growing community when she otherwise encountered so many obstacles. She told the little sisters during a meeting:

"To arrive where we are today we had to overcome many obstacles. Sometimes I felt as though I were climbing a steep mountain and that there were those who tried to grab hold of me and pull me back down...

Fortunately, I had a wonderful sign that encouraged me to keep on climbing: the approval of the Church. I asked for this sign at the outset of the foundation and it has never failed to show itself."

In the course of ten years there was a real demographic explosion in the Community. From 75 little sisters in 1949 we went to 800 in 1959. One of the biggest problems was what to do about the formation of those who entered. We were such a young Congregation and did not have the necessary framework. There was practically a novitiate in each country and this multiplicity gave rise to a certain worry. On August 18, 1959 little sister Magdeleine wrote:

"We are criticized on every side. There have always been critics but it seems that they are stronger now than ever. Each little sister should go about her daily tasks humbly and with generosity, regardless of what she hears. The Lord has always protected us and will not abandon us now even though our boat is being thrashed about by this storm.

Be very, very little... Do not draw the attention of others. Too much has already been said about us and we have been held up as a model and now we are paying the consequences. Keep trusting! The tiny infant Jesus is at the helm of this ship and will guide it to its goal..."

In November 1959 Cardinal Tisserant retired from the Congregation for Oriental Churches and this was another support that was taken from us.

A painful ordeal

On December 16, 1959 Bishop de Provencheres came to see little sister Magdeleine, little sister Jeanne and the Counsel in Rome as was his annual custom. This time he was pained to announce to them that the Congregation was to undergo an "Apostolic Visit".

Fr. Fortin, O.M.I, was named as the Visitor and arrived in Tre Fontane on December 22, 1959. He stated that he was there on behalf of the Holy Father to take a closer look at the Community since it had requested approbation under Pontifical Status. He added that he had jurisdiction over every aspect and was the highest superior of the Community.

1962 03 25 Tre fontane with Little sister Jeanne and Fr Voillaume1962 03 25 Tre fontane with Little sister Jeanne and Fr Voillaume

One of his first decisions was to ask little sister Magdeleine to leave Tre Fontane so that he could evaluate little sister Jeanne's governance. It was all the more painful for her in that 200 little sisters had just arrived in Tre Fontane for the session and were waiting to meet her. She wrote in her diary:

"We only really know that someone loves the Church when one of its representatives has caused that person to suffer,"

From her very first conversations with the Visitor she realized that certain essential aspects of our vocation were being called into question: spiritual childhood, contemplative life in the midst of the world, working class poverty and the unity that existed between little sister Jeanne and herself concerning the direction of the Congregation. On January 15, 1960 she left Rome for a small community in Aix-en-Provence. The next day she wrote to little sister Jeanne:

"It is horribly painful... but I accept it with the deep joy that comes through obedience to the Church... What is so painful is that it sows seeds of doubt in the hearts of the little sisters... But my trust in the Lord remains unfailing despite the pain. I know in my heart that never once since the Community has been entrusted to my care did I seek to do my own will. The Lord did it all and, blindly, I followed."

It was an anguished year 1960 for little sister Magdeleine. She was torn between her desire to live in total obedience to the Church, and her mission as foundress to defend the essential points of the vocation of the little sisters which was being called into question. There was little room for real dialogue with the Visitor and misunderstandings persisted.

1945 the first Baby Jesus of Touggourt1945 the first Baby Jesus of Touggourt

As Christmas approached little sister Magdeleine grew ever more anxious because the visitor was in the process of reviewing the Constitutions. She felt that the congregation was like a tiny boat being tossed upon the waves of a storm and her prayer intensified all the more.

"Jesus, save us, we are perishing. Tiny infant Jesus, have mercy on us and deliver us."

Bishop de Provencheres called her from Rome on December 31st to tell her that the ordeal was reaching its end. On January 18th he announced by telegram that the Visit was officially over. A few days later little sister Magdeleine wrote:

"Now we must pick ourselves up and forget this profoundly wounding experience. I don't think that this can happen overnight..."

But she added later:

"Even if I had to suffer ten times more I would still love the Church and the Holy Father with every ounce of strength that is mine and try to inculcate this attitude in the entire Congregation.

I have lost some of my spontaneity. My trust will be ever more rooted in faith..."