The priestly ordination of Charles de Foucauld

The priest, hermit and martyr Blessed Charles de Foucauld has been cleared for canonisation by Pope Francis. Patrick H. Daly, a priest of the Birmingham diocese, traces his ordination story.

Recent reports in the French Catholic newspaper La Croix suggested that, with embarrassment concerning their colonial past on the rise in several countries in Europe, the cause of Blessed Charles de Foucauld’s canonisation might momentarily be put on the back burner, despite Pope Francis giving the green light to his cause on 27 May 2020. In common with most of his compatriots at the time, de Foucauld believed in the civilising mission of France in North Africa where, immediately following his ordination to the priesthood at the age of 43 in 1901, he was to spend the rest of his life. Reservations about political views which were mainstream in the context of the early twentieth century did not prevent Pope Francis, in the third decade of the twenty-first century, hailing the exemplary life of Charles, the universal brother, whose life and witness the pontiff associates with Francis of Assisi, in the second encyclical of his pontificate, Fratelli tutti.1

The life of Charles de Foucauld is unusually well documented. Not only did he keep a detailed diary and notebooks which chart both his spiritual development and his future projects and plans, but the letters he wrote fill several printed volumes. There is no lack of primary source material for those interested in acquainting themselves with de Foucauld’s life while the dedication of his principal editor and official biographer, Jean-François Six, has guaranteed that the secondary material on the universal brother and his legacy to the life of the Church in the twentieth century is even more extensive.2

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