Brother Charles de Foucauld

Charles was born in Strasbourg, France, September 15th 1858, into a wealthy and very Catholic family. At the age of 5½, he had already lost both his parents and he and his sister Marie were taken in by their maternal grandfather Colonel MorletBecause of the war between Germany and France in 1870, his family fled and settled down in Nancy. These events marked Charles and he was a very sensitive and anxious child.

   Tormented youth and adolescence

  He went through a difficult adolescence and lost his faith in the course of it. He went to the special military school of Saint Cyr for 2 years and to the cavalry school of Saumur for one year. He received a large inheritance. So, perhaps to drive out the anguish he felt within, he sank into a life of pleasure and trouble.

         But the feasts he organized didn’t fill the emptiness he felt inside himself. He described his state as follows:

      “a profound sadness, a painful emptiness, a sadness that I have never experienced since... it returned each        evening when I found myself alone... it kept me silent and overwhelmed me during what was called a feast.”


Commissioned at 22 as an officer in the French military, Charles was sent to Algeria. Three years later, he left the army and in 1882 decided to undertake an exploration of Morocco. He took along a guide, Mardochee, who was from Algiers and Jewish. The adventure lasted 11 months and he brushed with death several times. He was deeply touched by the witness of faith of the Muslims he encountered throughout this expedition and it caused a new question to arise in him: “Does God exist?”

Path of conversion

   Back home in France, Charles was touched by the warm and affectionate welcome of his profoundly Christian family, who remained quietly discreet about his tumultuous past.
"Prodigal son, not just received with unspeakable goodness and without punishment, but with kisses, the best robe, and and the ring of the child of the house.”
In Paris, while the results of his expedition to Morocco were being printed, he felt pulled to enter a church and remain there for hours repeating this prayer, “My God, if you exist, make me know you.” In his searching, he met a priest, Fr Huvelin, and wanted him to give him some religion courses. But Fr Huvelin suggested instead that he go to confession and communion immediately, so as to touch the truth within, recognize his sinfulness, and come to the light. Everything turned upside down for him that day and he was converted. It was October 1886 and he was 28 years old.

Fascinated by Jesus of Nazareth

         Two years after Charles’ conversion, Fr Huvelin, who would become his spiritual director, counseled him to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There, Charles discovered a poor and humble God, who became flesh in Jesus, an ordinary, poor worker and villager in Nazareth.

From then on, it was this Jesus he sought to follow and to imitate. After a time with the Trappist, Charles returned to Nazareth as a gardener and servant of the Poor Clares. There, his understanding of his desire deepened. 

"What I secretly dream of is several persons leading the life of Nazareth together, earning their living as the Holy Family did, while practicing the virtues of Nazareth in the contemplation of Jesus.”

The Universal Brother



He was ordained a priest in Viviers, France, on June 9th 1901, and then left for the Sahara. He settled first at Beni-Abbes, hoping to be able to go to Morocco one day. To go to “those souls who are most ill, the sheep who have strayed farthest away, the most neglected.”

“I want all the people who live here, Christians, Muslims, Jews, or non-believers, to get used to thinking of me as their brother.”





In 1905 he settled in Tamanrasset among the Touareg, nomads lost in the desert.
“My apostolate is goodness. If anyone should ask me why I am gentle and good, I have to say because I am the servant of someone so much better than me.”


In 1914, World War I began in Europe but it had repercussions as far as the Sahara. Brother Charles built a little fort with the villagers of Tamanrasset where he and they could take refuge in case of danger. It is there that he was killed on December 1st 1916.