Miracles Happen

Charles de Foucauld (“Br. Charles”) is the spiritual father of the Little Sisters and the Joseph House. Although he is not well known to many people, Br. Charles had a deep influence on our founder, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling. She considered him a saint, and now he is close to being one in fact.

On May 3, 2021, at a meeting at the Vatican called an Ordinary Public Consistory, the cardinals voted to proceed with the canonization of Br. Charles along with six other beatified men and women. The vote was confirmed by Pope Francis, who has mentioned Br. Charles several times in his encyclicals and public addresses.

This Consistory vote was the last formal step in the process of approving Br. Charles’ canonization. Ordinarily, a date for the actual canonization would have been set at this time, but the Pope is postponing that because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The process of canonization is typically long, and the one for Br. Charles is no exception (he died more than a century ago in 1916). Written documents need to compiled and the person’s life has to be examined in detail. The holiness of his or her life has to be determined (and it is important to note that this doesn’t mean being perfect and without flaws–saints are products of their time in history like everyone else). When someone is canonized, he or she is declared to be a model for living the Christian life. A saint’s life has “universal” teaching value: people from all walks of life can learn something and be inspired.

The final pieces of evidence need to be bona fide miracles, proof that the proposed saint is in heaven interceding for us on earth. This is also what it means to be a canonized saint: someone the faithful can turn to for prayers.

Br. Charles was beatified in 2005 (allowing him to be called “Blessed”) after an Italian woman was cured of bone cancer that was attributed to his intercession. In order to be canonized and be considered a saint, a second miracle was needed. This is the story of that miracle.

On November 30, 2016, the day before the 100th anniversary of the death of Br. Charles, a 21-year-old man (whose name is Charle, without the “s”), was working as a carpenter’s apprentice on the renovation of the Chapel of the Lycée Saint Louis, a church in Saumur, France. This chapel happens to be very close to the military school that Br. Charles attended in his youth.

Charle was working above the vault when he fell about 50 feet, landing on a wooden bench. It shattered, and he was impaled by a piece of wood that pierced his left side just below his heart and came out the back underneath his rib cage.

Amazingly, Charle stood up and began to walk. Help was called and a helicopter arrived to take Charle to the hospital, but the piece of wood passing through his body prevented him from safely entering the craft. So he had to wait for an ambulance.

Chapel of the Lycée Saint Louis, 32 Rue d’Alsace, Saumur, Pays de la Loire, France. From Google Maps.

Meanwhile, the manager of the company that Charle worked for was alerted. He contacted people at his parish to get them to start praying. His parish was newly established in 2012 and is named after Blessed Charles de Foucauld! In preparation for his feast day on December 1, parishioners had already been praying a novena for his canonization. With news of the accident, hundreds of people began to pray in earnest, asking Blessed Charles to intercede for the young man. The following morning, his mother called the manager: her son was alive, the operation to remove the piece of wood was successful, and no organs were damaged! The accident should have been fatal, but nothing is impossible for God.

Charle spent only a week in the hospital. He suffered no long-term effects and returned to work several weeks later. Despite not being a practicing Christian himself, he is very happy that his recovery was recognized to be due to Br. Charles’ intercession. The pastor of the church in Saumur remarked, “When you know the life of Charles de Foucauld, it’s astonishing to see that the miracle attributed to him concerns someone who has no Christian faith…This echoes his missionary desire to go and to evangelize those who are not in the Church.”

Pope Francis approved the authenticity of this miracle on May 27, 2020. Now a year later, the saint-making process is complete. When it is safe to celebrate publicly, our newest saint will make his entrance: St. Charles de Foucauld!

Stories like this miracle are not unique. It is comforting to know that we are not alone, that the love and prayers of the people who have gone before us, whether they are official saints or not, accompany us through life.

Banner from the Beatification in 2005.

Note: This post was originally included with our November 2020 Newsletter. It has been reposted with additional information. Learn more about Charles de Foucauld.

The Confession of Br. Charles

A canonized saint by definition is someone who practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace. Coming from all walks of life, they show us how any situation can be transformed by the light of the Gospel.

To honor the saints, we place them on a pedestal or enshrine them in stained glass, complete with a halo. We look up to them, and without realizing it, we often assume they must have been angels when they walked the earth. Did St. Francis of Assisi ever complain about dinner? Did Mother Teresa ever get irritated by having to wait for someone? It’s hard to think that they did.

In contrast, each one of us is aware of our daily struggles and faults. So often, it seems, we fall short of the mark so easily. The saints must have been different.

Or maybe not.

They were human beings like us, and if we look closely at their lives there is ample evidence to prove that.

Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) hasn’t been canonized yet, but he was beatified in 2005 (a step along the way). His life and spirituality are important to us at the Joseph House (you can read more about him here on our website).

On January 16, 1898, he wrote a long letter to his spiritual director, Father Huvelin. At the time, Charles was in the Holy Land, living as a simple laborer for a convent of nuns. His life had the appearance of contented peace.

Charles begins his letter by describing how he occupies his time. Everything seems ideal:

“My life goes on with great calm; in the daytime I work as long as there is light; in the morning and in the evening and during part of the night, I read and pray.”

But then Charles starts to get honest. He takes a hard look at his life, and he tells Fr. Huvelin how the outside – what people see – is not the whole story. His list of failings is precise (emphasis his).

“The essence of my confessions is this:

  • tepidity (badly made prayers, badly said Office, miserably poor attendance at Mass, presence of God badly kept during the day, etc);
  • slackness (laziness in rising…sometimes I lie down again instead of getting up at the first awakening);
  • greediness, gluttony (eating too much);
  • lack of charity (not praying enough and with sufficient fervor for my neighbor…not having sufficiently the habit of seeing Our Lord, of seeing the Christ-Child in everyone…thoughts contrary to charity, memories accompanied by severe judgments on certain persons I used to know);
  • pride, not a sufficiently low opinion of myself, not enough mistrust of myself; thoughts, budding aspirations of betterment;
  • not enough repentance for my past and present sins.

Not enough gratitude to God nor to men, these are the main points, but above all tepidity and slackness.”

Hmmm…maybe his letter is more like a mirror for the reader today. Very relatable indeed. Br. Charles was just as human as all of us.

The lesson of his confession, and of all the saints, is to put our trust in God, the One who can do everything we cannot.

And another definition of a saint is someone who never gave up.

Statue of Br. Charles in Strasbourg, France, the city where he was born.

The source of the letter is Soldier of the Spirit by Michel Carrouges (published in English in 1956, it is out of print). The illustration in the header is by René Follet and is from The Wonderful Life of Charles de Foucauld (1963), also out of print. Bottom photo by Rabanus Flavus / public domain.