Brother Charles De Foucauld

North American Jesus Caritas Communities

What is the Lay Fraternity?

4.1 A Brief history of the Lay Fraternity

Brother Charles named the first Lay Fraternity “Union of Little Brothers and Sisters of the Sacred Heart” (March 11, 1909).   He gave it a triple purpose:

–            to bring Christians back to a life in conformity with the Gospel

–            to  increase love for the Holy Eucharist among the laity

–            to bring about an effective movement  toward the conversion of unbelievers

In the language of the time, he reminded  laity of their vocation to holiness and their missionary responsibility.  During the last seven years of his life, the “Union”, was his constant concern.     He made three trips to France  in order to promote it and achieve its recognition  by the Church.


4.1.1  The role of Louis Massignon


Nevertheless on Brother Charles unexpected death it had only forty-eight members and certainly would not have survived but for the tenacity of Louis Massignon.  This young university student, who would later become an Islamic scholar of renown, considered himself the spiritual heir of Charles de Foucauld who, at one time, had hoped he would join him in the Hoggar (Algeria).  In 1909, during a trip to France,  Charles de Foucauld and Louis Massignon spent a night in prayer together at the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Church, Montmartre (Paris).  This night may  be considered  as the mystical birth time of  Brother  Charles’ project for  the laity.


After the death of Brother Charles, Louis Massignon revived the “Union” and achieved a new status for it in 1923  by founding  the Charles de Foucauld Association.  He also took the initiative of requesting French writer Rene Bazin to write the biography of Brother Charles.  This book was published in  1921 and would encourage many to follow Brother Charles including Father René Voillaume and Little Sister Magdeleine.


In 1928 Louis Massignon published the “Directory”, the book that Brother Charles had planned to publish for members of the “Union.”  He saw  the “Directory” not as rule but rather a spiritual guide  and   was  revising it right up to the moment of  his death.


4.1.2  Growth of the Lay  Fraternity


The Association, as envisioned by Brother Charlest, brought together laity, priests and religious.  It was reorganized in 1950 under the name “Charles de Foucauld Fraternity” to bring together  other groups such as one in Lyon (France) which originated before the Second World War.


Meanwhile Father René Voillaume dedicated himself to propagating  the message of Brother Charles.  It was the time when copies of his conferences, and letters to the Little Brothers, were widely disseminated.   They summed up the “Foucauld” spirituality and at` the end of 1950,  were published in his book In the Heart of the Masses  which enjoyed a great success.   Charles de Foucauld Dairy and Notes   also published his letters to Joseph Hours, his friend in Lyon, which prophetically approached the subject of the place of the laity in the Church and society.  All of these texts had profound repercussions for many people.


Father Voillaume´s retreats  were to be the  opportunity for deepening the Gospel message of Brother Charles, and simultaneously  strengthening bonds between members of his Spiritual Family.   Several groups began to grow, and their representatives  met at Tubet near Aix-en-Provence (France), then the central fraternity of the Little Sisters of Jesus, in a fraternal atmosphere of  enthusiasm and freedom.   In 1953,  a retreat brought together two hundred people in the former Chartreuse (Carthusian Monastery) of Bosserville near Nancy (France).  This event proved to be a decisive  moment for the blossoming of the Lay Fraternity through its exceptional ambiance of participation and adoration of the Eucharist.  This movement  would become the “Charles de Jesus Lay Fraternity” in  1955.  From then on, it became a specifically lay movement.  The year 1955  also saw the founding meeting, at Beni-Abbes (Algeria), of the “General Association of the Fraternities of Brother Charles of Jesus” which brought together into one Spiritual Family  all the groups of laity, religious and priests inspiring themselves on Brother Charles´s spiritual heritage.  This Association was renamed “Association of the Spiritual Family of Charles de Foucauld”  at its meeting in Tre Fontane (Italy) 2003.


4.1.3  The growth of the Lay Fraternity at an international level


The ideals of  “Nazareth living” and of “universal brotherhood /sisterhood” led  a certain number of lay people in the European Fraternity to put themselves at the service of countries in the Third World – North Afica (The Mahgreb), Africa, Latin America, and to engage in solidarity and human rights work especially after  the 1973 Pinochet Coup in Chile.  From the 1950´s lay fraternities had already began to flourish  in many countries including Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the US and Canada.  This development would necessitate international meetings.


The first meeting took place in Marseille, France in 1964, with eleven national delegations participating.  Since that time,  these meetings have taken place every six years.


4.1.4  International Meetings of the Lay Fraternity:


1964  Marseille, France:  The meeting emphasized structures and statutes as well as spirituality.  The Fraternities were regrouped into five regions:  Northern Europe, Southern Europe, North America, South America, and Asia-Africa.  Regional Responsibles were elected and together they formed the Central Committee of the Lay Fraternity.


In 1966 the new statutes of the Lay Fraternity were published in French as  The Directory   and translated into many languages.


1970  Assisi, Italy  (17 delegations)

This meeting put the accent on  commitment.   The phrase “International Team”  was chosen to replace “Central Committee” for the leadership.


1976   Tarbes, near Lourdes,  France   (18 delegations)

An important debate took place on the effective participation in the Lay  Fraternity by fraternities of countries outside of Europe.  Benedito Prezia from Brazil  was elected as General Secretary to lead the fraternity  as a sign of the desire to listen to non-Europeans.


1982  San Cugat,  near Barcelona, Spain  (16 delegations)

The focus was on the place of the poor in the Lay  Fraternity both in terms of  mission as well as participation.   The short document “The Way of Unity” was drafted in order to express both the identify of the Lay Fraternity and the connection between prayer and commitment and this would become the Magna Carta  for the Lay Fraternity.  Members of  the fraternities of  Belgium  were elected to form the International Team.


1988  Natoye,  near Namur,  Belgium  (22 delegations)

The International Team is formed by representatives from different regions of the world.


1994  Orsay,  near Paris, France  (27 delegations)

This would be again an international team of representatives of each continent.  René Haentgen (Belgium) became General Coordinator.


2000  Araruama, near Rio, Brazil  (24 delegations)

This was the first International Meeting outside of  Europe. The theme was “God Recreates the Universe”  and over 100 participants were present.  North and South America were amalgamated into one region “The Americas”. The new  International Team was made up of representatives from each continent that is  Europe, Africa, Asia, the Arab World and the Americas.  The new general coordinator elected was  Marianne Bonzelet (Germany).


2006  Arusha, Tanzania.  The central theme: “Apostolic and Prophetic Vision of the Lay Fraternity”




(Text discussed and approved by the General Assembly of the Lay Fraternities at San Cugat (Barcelona) Spain, 15th August 1982, and modified by the General Assembly of the Lay Fraternities at Araruama (Rio de Janeiro), Brazil, 29th July 2000).


Cugat, Barcelona 1982     





The Lay Fraternity brings together women and men from all ethnic origins, of all social classes and from different states of life who, following the example of Charles de Foucauld, wish to help each other to follow Jesus and to live the Gospel.  The Fraternity had its origin in the Roman Catholic Church but it is open to all those who are drawn by the message of Brother Charles.


4.2.2   THE SPIRIT


Faithful to the inspiration of Brother Charles, members of the Fraternity are called to live the hidden life of Nazareth which for them means:

a)                  The constant search and welcoming of the Incarnate Son of God who became the ”carpenter’s son” (Matt 13 : 55).

b)                  ”To cry out the Gospel with their lives”.

c)                  Solidarity with the poor – the living presence of Christ in the midst of the world.

d)                  The search for communion and universal friendship with all the Churches, religions and people of the world.


1.      Fraternity members wish to model their lives on the example of Jesus Christ:


a)      In adoring him and receiving him in the Eucharist – the real presence of God amongst us.

b)      In welcoming him in his Word, especially in the Gospel.

c)      In searching for him in personal prayer, in retreats, in ”desert days” and in self-abandonment.

d)      In meeting him, in loving him and serving him in all people.


2.      In solidarity with the poor, fraternity members try to:


a)      Live a simple life, which is  alternative to the consumer society.

b)      Sharing their sorrows, their hopes and their conflicts in the search for true freedom.

c)      Recognizing in all people, particularly our neighbors, a brother and a sister to love, and especially the most abandoned who are in need of material, spiritual or moral support.


3.      By their life in fraternity members are called to:


a)      Have mutual understanding and affection for each other and to be aware of the others’ need whatever it may be.

b)      A true conversion of heart, particularly through the ”Review of Life” where they are called to scrutinise their personal and public lives in accordance with the demands of the Gospel.

c)      A true sharing which suppose the renunciation of privileges in order to seek a more communal management of material goods.


4.      The fraternity must take a clear position when human rights are threatened by any form of oppression but without placing individual members under an obligation to concur with or act on that position.


5.      Brother Charles must always be a source of renewal for the fraternities. Knowledge of his life, his writings and his spirituality are means through which fraternity members remain faithful to their vocation and today’s demands of the Gospel in their lives.





The fraternity is made up of small local groups.


  1. To ensure liaison and support between these local groups each country has a national team one of whose members is, where possible, a priest of the family of Brother Charles.
  2. Each country is organized according to its national needs and characteristics, always remaining faithful to the spirit of Brother Charles and in liaison with the International Team.
  3. The fraternity is aware of and feels a duty to those who, because of their particular circumstances, are unable to attend regular meetings but wish to follow the way of life and spirituality of Brother Charles’ Spiritual Family.
  4. Each Continent should have a regional organization thus encouraging international discussion and support.
  5. There is a General Assembly every six years.
  6. The purposes of the General Assembly are:
    1. Facilitate the meeting of  delegates representing each country.
    2. To live, pray, listen and share together.
    3. To discern  that  which is  in accordance or  not with  the spirit of the Fraternity.
    4. To elect an International Team for a period of six years. This team should have, if possible, a priest member and also two or three other members who are present and therefore known to the General Assembly.
    5. This Team should be the sign of unity with all the fraternities and has responsibility for giving support, encouraging growth and maintaining liaison throughout the world.
  7.  The Fraternity has regular contact with all other branches of the Spiritual Family of Brother Charles, particularly in the General Association of the Fraternities of Brother Charles of Jesus.


4.3    The Lay Fraternity  Around the World


The following list follows the division of Continents in the Fraternity










Burkina Faso



Central African Republic




Democratic Republic of the Congo


Sierra Leone









Costa Rica









United States



ASIASouth Korea





Sri Lanka














The Netherlands