Canonization of Saint Charles de Foucald – May 15, 2022
EARLY HISTORY OF THE JESUS CARITAS FRATENTIES IN THE U.S.: 1963-1973
Fr. Juan Romero, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Blessed Charles de Foucauld – An Unlikely Patron
Charles de Foucauld, an ascetic monk known as a Little Brother of Jesus, is an unlikely patron saint for diocesan priests. He inspired the International Fraternity of Jesus Caritas thus becoming one of the few patron saints for diocesan priests. At the beginning of December 1916 and at the relatively young age of 58, Charles Eugene de Foucauld was killed in Tamanrasset, Algeria. His feast day is celebrated on December 1, near the anniversary of his death. Pope Benedict XVI beatified him as a martyr for the faith on November 13, 2005, and Pope Francis canonized him on May15, 2022. Although the only group he ever directly founded was a lay fraternity of the Little Brothers of Jesus, Blessed Charles has inspired a multitude of other groups and is counted as the co-founder of the Little Sisters of Jesus. His life and legacy were an inspiration for Jesus Caritas fraternities of diocesan priests throughout the world. Here are some highlights of his life and ministry based on a talk recorded on YouTube, sponsored by the McGrath Institute given in 2018 by Professor Gabriel Reynolds of the University of Notre Dame.
Charles was born into wealth in 1858 at Strasbourg along the borderland between France and Germany. He was, like St. Augustine of Hippo, a cradle Catholic, but not enthusiastic about nor faithful to the practice of his religion until he had a conversion experience in later life. De Foucald was intellectually gifted and had a good education, but his grades were poor until he encountered something that truly interested him. Geography and the desert peoples of northern Africa intrigued him, but his attraction to “wine women and song” as well as Cuban cigars trumped academic interests of this young military officer in the French cavalry. In a change of assignment, he paid the passage to send ahead his mistress Mimi, a Parisian actress, posing as his spouse to be with him at an assignment in southern Algeria where he bravely served in combat.
A restless man, he left military life and moved to Morocco where—although there were few Christians in the area– the influence of a French priest helped stabilize his life. The area was ruled by a Muslim Emirate, and a strong Jewish colony had been present there since the middle-ages. Charles was intrigued by his surroundings, and an Irish librarian encouraged him to pose as a rabbi to gain easy entry to the people and territory. This allowed him to literally take measurement of the land, and Charles won a gold medal from the Sorbonne University for his geographical study.
Deeply impressed by and strongly attracted to the simplicity, dogma, and morality of the Jews and Muslims of Morocco, Charles admired their fidelity to faith and its expressions in prayer and fasting. Through the prayerful intercession of his cousin Marie–and after a grace-filled
encounter in the sacrament of Penance at the Paris church of St. Augustine—Charles in 1886 returned to returned to France and to his Catholic faith. He decided to live for God alone and joined a Trappist Monastery for a cloistered life. In 1890, he moved to another more severe and remote Trappist monastery in Syria. Five years later, during the time of the Armenian Genocide, de Foucald the military man resurfaced to organize a successful defense of the monastery against marauders. While in Syria, he wrote a Rule for the Little Brothers of Jesus, but the order was never truly organized during his lifetime.
His Trappist brothers recognized the leadership qualities and spiritual capabilities of Brother Charles. He was seen as “exceptional, stubborn, humble”, and they sent him to study in Rome towards a possible future leadership role in the monastic order. However, he chose instead to move to Nazareth where he lived for a few years in a hut provided by Poor Clare Sisters. Brother Charles worked as their gardener and subsisted on a diet of bread and water. When the Poor Clare Sisters gave him dates, figs and almonds to augment his diet, he would—unbeknown to them—give away the food to people in the village. In Nazareth, he grew in appreciation of the Hidden Life of Jesus and was given mystical experiences: “a union that had no earthly name”. Brother Charles de Foucald received greater clarity and transparency of the person Jesus Caritas and began to focus on his true vocation.
The Sisters suggested he go to Jerusalem to meet with their Mother Superior who urged him to be ordained a priest. “You have to be a priest to begin a religious order,” Mother Superior counseled. The Patriarch of Jerusalem demurred ordaining him since he had no real roots there, so he went to Viviers, France where he was ordained in 1901. Father Charles then left for Western Algeria where he committed himself to be a “brother” with and for the POOR. He planned to establish a community of Little Brothers but was unsuccessful.
By 1904, as a French patriot residing in the French colony of southern Algeria, Brother Charles without followers was a “community” of one. He attempted to redeem slaves and felt called to proclaim the Gospel to Berbers. At the same time, he recognized the spiritual needs of the soldiers in the French garrison. The tension was resolved when his vocation finally focused through his call to live in solitary isolation, contemplation, and service to the poor–a ministry of hospitable presence to Muslims and dedication to work in the Algerian Sahara. He lived among the Tuareg people, translated the Gospel into their language and produced a Tuareg-French dictionary. He made no conversions and baptized only two persons: a Black African slave whom he had raised and an old lady. Otherwise, he thought of himself as merely a “useless servant” (Lk. 17:7-10).
Nevertheless, he built a small hermitage in southern Algeria where he dedicated himself to an ascetic “ministry of presence”. By 1908, his health was declining, but he lived for another eight years. He was eventually killed before the Great War between Germany and France, its initial antagonists. Militarized Muslim Turks and Black Africans were aligned with Germany. At the end of 1916, there was a plan to kidnap but not kill Brother Charles suspected of being a French agent and captured him. Little Brother Charles in a kneeling posture, hands and feet bound
behind his back when Algerians arrived to rescue him. However, a teenage militant panicked and shot Charles through the head.
His cousin Maria for years had prayed for his conversion. Among his last writings, he counseled her, “Never be afraid of danger…God will not forget.” Pope Francis at the beginning of his encyclical Fratelli Tutti (All are Brothers) echoes the message of his chosen namesake St. Francis of Assisi that the heart of the Christian message is “a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate, and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives”.
This holy man of God has influenced the lives of many throughout the world and continues to do so. Although he did not begin Jesus Caritas fraternities for diocesan priests, he nevertheless inspired them with his love of the Eucharist as sacrifice and sacrament and by his commitment to live Gospel simplicity, by his devotion to the Hidden Life of Jesus of Nazareth and by his attraction to “the Desert”. For over half a century, I belonged to a Jesus Caritas Fraternity that faithfully met monthly. The brotherhood profoundly influenced my own life as a diocesan priest, and I am forever grateful to the brothers of my fraternity and to St. Charles de Foucald.
JESUS CARITAS FRATERNIES IN THE U.S.: 1963-1973
At a national retreat for members of the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of priests held at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California in July 2010, Father Jerry Devore of Bridgeport, Connecticut asked me in the name of the National Council to write an early history of Jesus Caritas in the United States. About fifty priests from all over the country gathered for a week while a smaller number of priests were already there participating for the full Month of Nazareth. This chronicle is based on conversations with and testimonies of some of those present.
As a young priest studying at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. during the mid-sixties, Father Thomas McCormick, a former National Responsible of the Fraternities, encountered the Little Sisters of Jesus. He noticed that one of their menial jobs was to clean toilets at the University. Father Tom was curious about this humble self-effacing group that was so faithful to their spirituality inspired by Brother Charles de Foucauld. These Little Sisters of Jesus lived his simple spirituality and radiated it as they were becoming fully catholic in their vision and mission. They dedicated themselves totally to humbly living the Gospel as practiced by Charles de Foucauld, the French hermit of North Africa. From very early on, the Little Sisters of Jesus served as a powerful underground promoting the spirit of Brother Charles in a very simple, yet immeasurable manner.
Father Tom McCormick in 1974 succeeded Father Dan Danielson as the National Responsible for Jesus Caritas Fraternities in the United States. Originally of the Midwest and later of Denver, Tom McCormick served in that position until 1979. Father Danielson was the first National Responsible, and until recently Father Joseph Greeley of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles served as the Responsible of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities in the United States. Father John Jacquel of Erie PA, as of 2022, is the new National Responsible.
The Fraternities were established for diocesan priests since religious order priests supposedly already had “fraternity” built within their structures. Nevertheless, several religious order priests over the years have joined Jesus Caritas fraternities in partnership with their diocesan brothers. The sense of priestly fraternity grew during the decade of the ‘70s as Jesus Caritas Fraternities spread on both coasts as well as throughout the United States.
This brief history is intended to complement two seminal Jesus Caritas works for the USA: A New Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Msgr. Bryan Karvelis (RIP) of Brooklyn, New York and the booklet American Experience of Jesus Caritas Fraternities by Father Dan Danielson of Oakland, California. This essay proposes to record the beginnings of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities in the USA over its first decade of existence from 1963 to 1973. It purports to be an “Acts of the Apostles” of some of the prophets and apostles of the Jesus Caritas Fraternity in the USA, a collective living memory of this little-known dynamic dimension of the Church in the United States. It is not an evaluation of the Fraternity, much less a road map for its future growth and development. Its immediate purpose is to be a simple report of some of the main facets of the early history of Jesus Caritas in the USA, an “Observe,” if you will, of our beginnings and common roots in this country. Any consequent “Judge” or “Act” is outside the purview of this paper but may be used as an organizing tool for potential growth of the Fraternity.
The influence of Brother Charles of Jesus was first felt during the late Nineteenth Century in Africa where he labored as a quasi-hermit, and then in the early Twentieth Century at his homeland, France. In the early 1960’s, Peter Heinermann brought the story of Brother Charles and the Jesus Caritas Fraternities to places outside of Europe. Canadian priest Jacques Le Clerc was the coordinator of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities in Canada as well as their national “responsible.” He brought the fraternities of Brother Charles to the American continent by way of Montreal. With its strong French connection, Montreal was fertile soil for the development of Jesus Caritas Fraternities. Other fraternities were already established in many places throughout the world. However, they had not yet come into the United States. By 1963, the beginnings of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities in the United States coincided with the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
JESUS CARITAS IN THE U.S.
Branches of Jesus Caritas Fraternities began to bud in New York and California, and various other places throughout the United States. Msgr. Bryan Karvelis of the Brooklyn Diocese in New York and Father Dan Danielson of the Oakland Diocese in California were pioneer founders—the Peter and Paul–of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities in the United States.
Msgr. Bryan Karvelis
Ordained in the late 1950s, Msgr. Bryan Karvelis died in October 2005, after half a century of priestly ministry and just a couple of months before the beatification of Brother Charles of Jesus. Bryan had grown up in St. Boniface Parish in Brooklyn, and he served for almost fifty years as pastor of Transfiguration Parish in the same city. Former New York socialite Dorothy Day, turned apostle-to-the-poor, greatly influenced Msgr. Karavelis. He housed homeless people – mostly immigrants from Latin America – in the rectory, the basement of the convent, and in a shelter across the street from the church. He helped them find more permanent housing, and he turned the former convent into a refuge for AIDS patients.
In addition to Dorothy Day, Charles de Foucauld also powerfully influenced the life Msgr. Karvelis remembered as an “urban contemplative.” (National Catholic Reporter, March 10, 2000) In 1966, Msgr. Karvelis began “mini churches” at Transfiguration Parish in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as a way for parishioners to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus and his message. “Each ‘fraternity’ consisted of fifteen to twenty members who meet in the church basement for study prayer and reflection,” wrote the National Catholic Reporter in the early spring of Jubilee Year 2000. Within his parish, he organized Jesus Caritas-type fraternities akin to the Comunidades de Base of Latin America. They became the organizational basis for the whole parish – a community of small communities; his parish council functioned practically as a Jesus Caritas Fraternity. Karvelis lit a holy fire in Brooklyn that inspired a new zeal a group of highly enthusiastic social-action-type priests. The priests of his parish and others of surrounding parishes came to recognize that they needed more prayerful reflection to balance their priestly lives. They were going about doing good, and—like Mary, Martha’s sister—they were busy about many things, but perhaps not giving sufficient attention to the “one thing necessary”. (Lk 10:38-42)
Msgr. Karvelis was convinced that the way for priests to hold on to priesthood was to cling to Jesus Christ Himself in the manner exemplified by Charles de Foucauld. Karvelis emphasized the central importance of love for Jesus and fidelity to the Gospel mandate of serving the poor. This was the great example Jesus gave to diocesan priests and to all, and it was well exemplified by Brother Charles.
The basics of Jesus Caritas fraternities were catching on throughout the country. Priestly fraternities were on their own meeting monthly in commitment to a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, meditation on the scriptures with a predilection for the Gospels, simplicity of life, living in solidarity with the impoverished, and a monthly (or at least occasional) individual and prayerful “Day in the Desert” in preparation for one’s Review of Life to be shared within the monthly small-group meeting of a particular Fraternity.
The recommended (metaphorical) “Day” is to afford sustained quiet prayer time alone and away from one’s usual workspace. It may be at a mountain location, beach or anywhere, but without any props or distractions—even spiritual reading. The monthly meeting of the fraternity attempts to incorporate all of these elements: Gospel (or other scripture) reflection (not to be a time for homily prep), a meal together, Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, and the Review of Life — the heart of the monthly meeting. An annual overnight at a retreat house is highly recommended for spiritually deepening the fraternity.
Prudence and the Review of Life
Father Tony Leuer (RIP), a founding member of a Fraternity in Los Angeles, contributed an insight into the Review-of-Life process. Through his high school participation in the Young Christian Students (YCS), one of the “Specialized Movements” of Catholic Action that blossomed for about forty years from the ‘30s through the ‘70s, he had long been familiar with its Observe-Judge-Act technique. With its emphasis on concrete facts from members’ lives, the method is somewhat akin to the method used in Liberation Theology and in broad-based Community Organizing. Some Jesus Caritas priests such as Father Dan Finn of Boston have successfully used this methodology as a pastoral tool.
This approach to life is firmly based on the Virtue of Prudence as expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas in Quaestio 42 of his Summa Theologica. The virtue is directed toward action based on prior reflection. The virtue is not so much a habit to offer a warning of possible dangers in doing something, nor an exhortation to stop from doing something. On the contrary, rightly understood, prudence is the virtue (good habit of acting) ordinated to ACTION.
This virtue echoes the well-known formula OBSERVE-JUDGE-ACT developed in the early 20th century by Father Joseph Cardijn of Belgium. In 1912, he began to use this method of discernment-action with young women working in factories. He taught them to evaluate their “action” since that evaluation provides the deepest learning in life. The young men and women this technique developed into the Jenuesse Ouvriere Chrétienne (JOC = YCW, i.e., Young Christian Workers) that eventually spread throughout Europe, Latin America, and the whole world.
Pope Pius XII in 1965 named Joseph Cardijn a Cardinal who became a consultant at the Second Vatican Council. His process of prudence-in-action is the theological basis for the Review of Life that is at the heart of one’s sharing at a fraternity’s monthly meeting. The elements are as follows: 1) Observe concrete facts of a situation in life, 2) Judge (discern) them in the light of Christian principles, especially as reflected in the Gospel, 3) and then decide to Act concretely. Such action–on one’s own behalf or in concert with others for change—has as its purpose to move an unwholesome reality to conform more closely to values of Jesus Christ as espoused in the Gospels. This leads toward living a more human/Christian ideal in one’s own life and ultimately in society, thus preparing for the full coming of the Lord’s Kingdom.
In his article A New Tree Grows in Brooklyn— a homage to the 1951 Broadway Musical of that title (Novel 1943, Movie 1945, and Movie adapted for TV 1974) — Msgr. Bryan Karvelis wrote about the Eastern USA experiences of Fraternity. His option to serve the poor eventually cost him dearly in later years when he suffered from hostile non-Catholic elements that literally beat him various times. He also suffered from a kidney transplant but nevertheless continued to be enthusiastic about the development of Jesus Caritas Fraternities.
Only a few years after his ordination toward the end of the sixties, Father Howard Calkins of New York experienced the turmoil of the times through very unpleasant changes in assignment. That unhappy experience – it turns out was a “happy fault” – provided the catalyst for beginning a new fraternity. By 1970, Father Calkins, together with three or four others, made an “engagement” (pronounced the French way)—a commitment to live the charism of Brother Charles through a Jesus Caritas Fraternity. He followed this up in 1971 with a “consecration” at Tabor, New York. This commitment/engagement was somewhat analogous to a religious profession, but such a public affirmation is no longer customary in today’s Jesus Caritas fraternities.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
The first years of growth for the Fraternities in the United States took place at a tumultuous time. The spirit of the sixties— good and bad dimensions– affected all of society including the Church. The spirit of hope marking the beginning of the decade moved toward dissent in the middle of the decade, and then to conflict and turmoil towards its end. The March on Washington in August 1963 ushered in a hope in the possibility that we as a country indeed might be able to overcome the divisions of race. Furthermore, the October opening of the Second Vatican Council gave rise to a great hope that God’s Spirit would breathe new life into the Catholic Church as well as in other institutions throughout the world. Many of those hopes were quashed by the decade’s stormy end: the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, the convention of the Democratic Party in Chicago that summer, the drug-infested gathering of the nation’s youth at Woodstock, and widespread urban civil unrest. Discord within the Church followed the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the regulation of births.
At the same time, the Church was becoming more socially conscious. Many Catholic clergy, women religious and lay people were following the non-violent leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King. Cesar Chavez–the unapologetically Catholic charismatic leader and founder of the United Farm Workers Union– challenged Catholic priests and bishops to support La Causa with more than words. He pleaded churchmen boldly assert the right of farm workers to organize their own union. In the spring of 1969, Mexican American clergy, led by Chicano priests in Texas, organized themselves into a national organization of PADRES, an acronym that translates into Priests Associated for Religious, Educational and Social Rights. The PADRES were claiming that the Church as an institution in this country was not adequately responding to pastoral needs of its Spanish speaking. A significant “sign of the times” was that over 25% of Catholics in the U.S. were in this demographic. Church leadership at the time was slow to believe the percentage claimed, but the immanent explosion of the Latino population within the country eventually validated the claim in spades.
Turmoil and conflict within the United States and throughout the world certainly had its impact upon Catholic clergy. Their worlds had been rocked. As a result, many were deciding to leave active ministry, and some married. Father Dan Danielson was concerned about the growing fallout among American clergy. He was convinced that Jesus Caritas Fraternities could help the priests hold on to their priesthood through emotional and psychological support of one another within the fraternities. He thought that elements of “sensitivity sessions”, popularized on the West Coast by American Psychologist Carl Rogers, might be a tool that could be adapted to the fraternities while at the same time holding as sacred the general structure and emphasis of Jesus Caritas small gatherings.
Father Dan Danielson
Father Dan Danielson spread the word of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities along the West coast and in other parts of the country. He had been ordained from St. Patrick’s seminary for the Diocese of Oakland in 1963. In 2005, on the feast of the Assumption, a few months before the beatification of Blessed Charles, Danielson wrote about his own association with the Fraternities and shared his reflections on the history of Jesus Caritas in the USA.
Sometime around 1962, while studying theology at St. Patrick’s seminary in Menlo Park, a suburb of San Francisco, seminarian Danielson came upon a publication called Apostolic Perspectives, a small magazine published on the Ave Maria Press by Holy Cross Father Louis J. Putz. An article about a movement among diocesan clergy for fraternity and spiritual growth intrigued Danielson but it did not mention either Charles de Foucauld or Jesus Caritas Fraternities. This movement was on its way toward becoming a Secular Institute, a canonical status recognized by the Church only since 1947. Danielson requested further information from a given address in Brooklyn. In due time, he received from a certain Father Bryan Karvelis a copy of the article A New Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Surprisingly no bill was enclosed! Danielson sent away for more copies of the article on Jesus Caritas Fraternities to distribute among fellow seminarians. However, the rector reprimanded him for distributing material not previously approved by him and instructed him to cease proselytizing. After that, Dan Danielson distributed copies sporadically, but only upon the explicit request of a fellow seminarian.
Sulpician priest Father Frank Norris, a seminary professor with a viewpoint different from that of the rector, attended a meeting in Montreal, and brought back some information on Jesus Caritas Fraternities. After Father Dan Danielson’s ordination in 1963, he began a Jesus Caritas Fraternity within his Diocese of Oakland. Members of his group soon attempted to start other groups, but quickly realized that was a mistake. They returned to their original group that became Dan’s core priest-support group, and it remained so for the next forty-plus years.
A custom of post-Christmas Retreats for fraternities of northern California began in 1964, and the same kind of retreats soon spread from the Bay Area to southern California where new Jesus Caritas groups were springing up. The gatherings powerfully nourished the groups spiritually.
Within a relatively short time, branches of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities spread through the eastern corridor of the country, then to the Midwest and into the south. Msgr. Bryan Karvalis passed the baton, i.e., a sprig of the new Jesus Caritas tree, to Father Fred Voorhees of the Diocese of Buffalo. Father Fred transplanted the twig onto the good ground of New York and then Detroit where it bore savory fruit for the East Coast and Midwest. The powerful charism of Blessed Charles of Jesus independently touched Father Winus Roeten of New Orleans who planted a seed of Jesus Caritas in his diocese. Father Roeten, in turn, influenced Father Doug Brougher, also of New Orleans, and they facilitated the development of other Fraternities throughout Louisiana.
Father Jacques LeClerc was the national “Responsible,” i.e., coordinator, of the Jesus Caritas fraternities in Canada. In the mid ‘60s, he introduced the Month of Nazareth to the United States at Holy Cross Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Among the attendees at that first Month of Nazareth in the United States were Fathers Dan Danielson of Oakland and Father Bryan Karvelis of Brooklyn. This was the first time the two pioneer co-founders of the U.S. Fraternities met face-to-face.
This Month of Nazareth served as an encounter among several future evangelists, apostles, and prophets of the Jesus Caritas Fraternities. Present at this Connecticut encounter were Fathers Ed Farrell of Detroit–author of books on priestly spirituality– Winus Roeten of New Orleans, and Fred Voorhees of the Diocese of Buffalo. Each was also a pioneer in the spread of the Fraternities within their respective areas throughout the country. These “four evangelists” saw the need for some structure within the U.S, independent of Canada, and they selected Dan Danielson as the first National Responsible for the still-fledgling Jesus Caritas national priests’ association in the United States. The Fraternities grew in the U.S., but in a quintessentially American style.
Father Danielson during the 1970s had two bully pulpits for the propagation of Jesus Caritas Fraternities: he was an officer in the National Federation of Priests Councils and was a popular retreat master for priests throughout the country. After the Month of Nazareth at Connecticut in 1970, Father Danielson attended a Jesus Caritas International Assembly in Valmont, France—near Lourdes. He went with one question in mind: Were we in the U.S. “schismatics” among the Jesus Caritas Fraternities of the world? He asked himself the question because most priests in many of the Jesus Caritas groups with which he was familiar were negligent about paying dues. Furthermore, they seemed to lack explicit long-term commitment (“covenant”) to the ideals of the international fraternity. He discovered to his happy surprise that the representatives of the international Jesus Caritas not only welcomed their brother priests of the United States as members, but they also gave them “the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9) and fully embraced them as fellow diocesan priests serious about living the Gospel. The international gathering of brothers saw their American counterparts committed to spiritual growth, especially in their love for Jesus, regular prayer, and devotion to the Blessed Eucharist. At that meeting in France, Peter Hienermann was elected as the International Responsible. A “responsible” is the convoker or coordinator of a particular J.C. group who has the task of scheduling a place to meet and reminding the brothers of their next meeting. In addition, leaders of fraternities from every corner of the nation meet a least annually for better communication and coordination within the country, and this also happens on the international level.
During the ‘70s, Father Danielson promoted two Months of Nazareth at the Franciscan Seminary in Santa Barbara. He soon realized that he needed to develop a presentation about the Jesus-Caritas Fraternities for the priests of the United States. He determined that it had to be “realistic, and true to the experience of the existing groups in the United States.” About twenty priests helped him produced a twenty-paged mimeograph publication called The Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests: The American Experience. Eventually, it was printed in booklet form, extensively revised twice, and continues as the main booklet used to communicate the Fraternity to priests in the United States. Father Danielson gives own witness:
There is no question in my mind that the Jesus-Caritas Fraternity has been the single most important structural part of my priesthood in terms of what it means to be a priest. Most of the critical decisions in my priestly ministry of forty-two years, would not have been well made without the support and discernment provided by my Fraternity. I find myself continually challenged by the life and charism of Brother Charles, a challenge that is filled with encouragement most of the time, with only occasional feelings of “I’ll never get it.”
San Francisco was an important focal point for the propagation of Jesus Caritas in the West Coast and in the entire nation. The seminary at Menlo Park was a true “seminary” for seedlings of new fraternities. Father Jim Flynn of the San Francisco Archdiocese tended the garden of new vines thus influencing Bay area priests to become members of Jesus Caritas Fraternities. They included Fathers Harmon Skilin, John Armisted of Stockton, and Tony McGuire of San Francisco. Father Flynn strongly influenced and sent many young priests, such as Jack McCarthy, for higher studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. These men, in turn, became multipliers of Jesus Caritas Fraternities.
Father Dan Danielson was the original inspiration to Father Larry Clark of St. Cecilia’s parish in Los Angeles, and Father Clark became one of the earliest members of the Jesus Caritas Fraternity in Southern California. In the years 1968-69, he hosted various groups of priests, but lessened his connection with Danielson. Tony Leuer and Peter Beaman picked up the Danielson connection, and then spread it to others by promoting other Fraternities within the Archdiocese.
During the mid-sixties in Southern California, through the inspiration of Msgr. John Coffield, Father Frank Colborn began a support group he tentatively called “Young Christian Priests” based on the Jocist Movement. This group quickly morphed into a Jesus Caritas Fraternity, one of the earliest and longest lasting in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Among other early pioneers of Jesus Caritas in Southern California were Msgr. Willam Barry, Father Peter Nugent and future Bishop Joseph Sartoris. Jesus Caritas member Msgr. Wilbur Davis, originally from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles but now of the Diocese of Orange, is credited with building a House of Prayer for Priests in the Diocese of Orange. It became a favorite meeting place for J.C. Fraternities.
In 1972, Father Juan Romero began a Jesus Caritas group in San Antonio. Having been in a Los Angeles Fraternity for about six years, he was released from the Archdiocese to work out of San Antonio, Texas for a few years with the PADRES national organization of priests involved in Hispanic ministry. Father David Garcia, a former national board member of Jesus Caritas, credits Romero with being “the godfather” of Jesus Caritas fraternities in the San Antonio Archdiocese. From there, fraternities spread to other parts of Texas.
Colorado and Beyond
In the Jubilee Year 2000, almost forty years after the beginnings of JC Fraternities in the USA, the “Rocky Mountain Roundup” held near Denver, Colorado inaugurated the Third Christian Millennium for the Jesus Caritas priest fraternities in the country. At the International Assembly held in Cairo in 2001, Father Greg gave a report on the state of the Jesus Caritas Priest Fraternities in the United Sates. He reported that the American character of individualism tends to be eclectic, and it resists what some priests may perceive as an imposition of outside rules. “Some fraternities are vibrant, some just social, and some suffer from rigor mortis,” he candidly observed. The Review of Life is “a central practice in the life of the fraternity… a means of accountability…a kind of litmus test for living the fraternity and priesthood in our lives,” he continued. Hospitality, love of Scripture, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, simplicity of life and a love for the poor are some of the charisms that marked the life of Brother Charles, and that are attractive to many American diocesan priests. However, other practices that Charles inspired or advocated, such as a monthly Day in the Desert and giving an account of the use of one’s economic resources (a form of evangelical poverty) are observed “with more difficulty” or in the breech.
He reported that there were about four hundred Fraternities in the United States, totaling over fourteen hundred members. The structure consisted of a National Responsible that is considered “Regional” within the organization of the International Jesus Caritas. The Responsible has six district Council Members to be “co-responsibles” with him, each representing various regions of the expansive country. Father Greg further reported that some bishops encouraged their priests to join Jesus Caritas Fraternities, and that Fraternities were being introduced into seminaries. Although there was constant growth of Jesus Caritas priest Fraternities during the nineties, their number did not double in that decade prior to the closing of the millennium.
The life and death of Charles de Foucauld has had great impact throughout the world during the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. His impact upon clergy throughout the world has been immense, and his influence has reached the lay faithful as well. The International Assembly of the Secular Fraternity of Charles de Foucauld met at Araruama, Bazil in 2000. Representatives from twenty-four countries came together and took as their theme “To Live Nazareth.” Participants were called to live simply and encouraged to counter all the negative effects of globalization: “pursue solidarity with all those excluded, individually and collectively”. Speakers encouraged listeners to adopt definite positions on issues to join with those groups—such as Amnesty International and other Justice and Peace networks–that advocate for human dignity.
At a time that many Westerners see every Arab as a militant Islamic fundamentalist, the life of Brother Charles of Jesus is a counter-cultural witness to a secular society polarized by multicultural and inter-religious conflicts. His words—echoing Jesus—exhort us to. “Be patient…loving as God…[to] reject harshness, condescension, the militant spirit that sees those who differ as enemies… [and to] see in every human being a beloved brother/sister, friend.” That’s quite a different attitude in our time, but one that is the attitude of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Little Brother, Blessed Charles of Jesus, pray for us!
Lay Fraternities Worldwide
The charism of Blessed Charles de Foucauld has deeply touched many lay people throughout the word, and the disciples of Brother Charles of Jesus have an impact outside of the household of our Catholic faith. A Methodist Pastor in 1979 spoke of his great admiration for Little Sister Francesca who worked as a model of discipleship and love in Roxbury, one of the poorest sections of Boston. The charism of Little Brother of Jesus Charles de Foucauld has touched secular institutes as well as lay fraternities. Lennie Tigh of Boston is in contact with about 200 persons associated with lay fraternities of Jesus Caritas in Transfiguration, NY. Yvonne Keith is also a promoter of lay fraternities among women in Colorado and beyond.
In Cleveland during the mid 1970s, Joe Conrad and others formed Lay Groups, six to eight to a group. Three “concentric” groups, with as many as forty members each, quickly developed. However, the number settled down to sixteen committed members comprising two Review-of-Life groups that live in a Core Community house whose focal point is Eucharist. Their Thursday evening Mass is open to other people, and over a period of decades, this has led to the formation of other Jesus Caritas communities bonded by monthly adoration and Review of Life, as well as by an Annual Retreat together.
Lay persons attracted to the way of life of Brother Charles de Foucauld were simply invited to gatherings for three consecutive months. They were expected to participate in the Gospel Sharing and Review of Life, and eventually invited to make a commitment. Within a year and a half to two years, they were furthermore invited to formally commit to the group for a year. The commitment is to live a simple life of prayer in the spirit of Brother Charles. The “Act of Commitment,” analogous to a public vow before God and the community, is renewed annually for ten years, and then for life.
Some years ago, the Cleveland Fraternities held a “Community Day” to examine their history and make an intention to deepen connection with Brother Charles. Organizers of the Day made available books and writings about Brother Charles that have inspired many to live more closely in accord to his example. Among these are materials by Father Voillaume and Little Sister Magdeline.
International Lay Groups
In 1991, the original Jesus Caritas Fraternity split into two groups. One became a secular institute recognized by Rome. The larger group took the name of Fraternity of Charles de Foucauld and drew up statues to be recognized as an Association of the Faithful. Rome granted this recognition on December 1, 1998, the seventy-second anniversary of Brother Charles’ death. In mid-August of the new millennium, laywomen of Jesus Caritas Groups held their own International General Assembly at Essen, Germany. Thirty-three of them represented twenty-one countries. For the first time, three members of Groups from Rwanda represented their forty-one members. Main themes discussed were 1) Identity as single laywomen following the spirit of Charles de Foucauld, 2) Co-responsibility and 3) Celibacy.
They took care of business in six main language groups connected to an International Team that has a non-hierarchical structure. The leadership consists of a General Responsible (Italian), a Deputy (another Italian), Secretary (German), and Treasurer (French). Completing the leadership team is a Representative and Deputy Representative for Latin America, and a Representative from Africa. The plan for Assembly 2004 was to choose a representative from Africa as Responsible for the continent. Each member of a Fraternity is connected to a base community whose members pledge to live important values and practices: unity within the Fraternity and beyond it, listening and mutual respect; daily Eucharist and Morning Prayer.
Besides his macro impact upon the world, Charles de Foucauld continues to have micro impact on the very local level in the many places where there is located a Fraternity inspired by him. French speaking African priests from Cameroon belong to a Fraternity. In Umtata, South Africa, a pair of Jesus Caritas sisters live together as “sisters” neither by blood nor by religious vocation, but by common commitment. Both work in ministry for two years in the States, and then return to South Africa to help without salary in clinics and hospital. They are of European origin and belong to a Group (not called a fraternity nor a sorority) that numbers seven members. Each has taken a vow of celibacy and they “accompany African peoples in their struggles and hopes.” One observes, “There are no miracles in Umtata…We simply walked with the people…accompanying in their struggles and dreams.” (Sounds very Focauldian!)
Prior Marc of the Little Brothers of Jesus, in preparation for their Chapter in 2002, noted, “brother and fraternity…define our mission, the task that we have received from the Lord….” The message became inclusive by adding, “Jesus was son of man and of his mother, the Virgin, Mary of Nazareth.” Jesus was not only the son of Mary, but also the son of the women and men that He met who do the will of the Father. “Here are my mother and my brothers; whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, my sister, my mother.” (Mt 28: 8-ff)
Conclusion and Testimony
The fact that Charles de Foucald– soldier of fortune turned ascetic monk–became a Catholic saint proves that he was much more than a “useless servant”. In God’s way that became his own way, St. Charles served the Church and the world and powerfully influenced many lives including my own.
For half a century I was closely associated with my Jesus Caritas fraternity of diocesan priests. Deaths and distance have ended it. Our support group numbered six or seven at a time during its existence and usually included members of Irish, Latino, and Asian heritages. Within the fraternity, there were triads, various groups of three. Three belonged to the fraternity for fifty years while others came and went. The fraternity included three classmates, and three—with some overlap– were or had been professors at our seminary. Three were extremely bright, but I was not in that trio.
We came to profoundly know each other as much as one could. During the Review of Life, each of us would try to share one significant “fact” or event of the past month that we observed in our own lives, and for which we were seeking clarity to make a change that would make our lives more pleasing to the Lord. We tried to avoid complaining. However, in younger years we sometimes talked about our pastors. In later years, we talked about our associates. The purpose of the sharing was not to provide or encourage a complaint session, but to collectively discern, i.e., judge the Will of God manifested through the brothers’ comments on each other’s sharing. In the process of Review of life, we gained insight to decide what action the Lord was asking of us to put into effect action(s) for an improved reality in our lives. Support, challenge, insight, accountability (to give an account), and love: these were watchwords of the mutual sharing in the Review of Life.
The life of Charles de Foucald was a wonderful inspiration to each of us and a great influence on the church and the world. He is a serious spiritual guide for anyone who wishes to closely follow the path of Jesus. St. Charles, pray for us!
Saint Charles de Foucald (1858 – 1916)
PRAYER OF ABANDONMENT
Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all; I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands, I commend my soul.
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.