Foucauld, Charles Eugène de
FOUCAULD, CHARLES EUGÈNE DE
Hermit; b. Strasbourg, France, Sept. 15, 1858; d. Tamanrasset, Algeria, Dec. 1, 1916. Foucauld, who came from a distinguished and devout family, was left an orphan in 1864 and was entrusted to the care of his maternal grandfather, De Morlet, a retired colonel. While pursuing his secondary studies at Strasbourg and Nancy, he lost his faith. So deeply did he plunge into dissipation that he had difficulty in completing his military education at Saint-Cyr (1876) and at the cavalry school in Saumur (1878). He received a commission as a second lieutenant, but he was discharged for disorderly conduct at the garrison of Pont-à-Mousson (1881). He was soon restored to his rank and regiment during a native revolt in the Sahara. In the ensuing eight-month campaign he turned from his dissolute ways and distinguished himself in the field for bravery and leadership qualities. When he returned to France, he could not adjust to garrison life and resigned his commission. Then he returned to the Sahara to engage in exploration. After a year spent in Algiers studying local language and customs he passed two years in the desert disguised as the Jewish servant of a rabbi (1883–84). His topographical, ethnological, social, and military findings were published as Reconnaissance au Maroc, 1883–1884 (1888), which won for him recognition from the Geographical Society of Paris.
So deeply had the desert solitude and the religiousness of the Muslims impressed Foucauld that he became reconciled to the Church of Abbé Henri Huvelin (October 1886). With characteristic intensity he began to live a life of prayer and asceticism. On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he joined the trappists in the Monastery of Notre Dame des Neiges in Nazareth (1890) but soon transferred to a poorer house at Akbès in Syria (1890–96). In search of greater poverty and self-sacrifice he transferred to the Abbey of Staoüeli in Algeria (1896). The superior there sent him to Rome to study theology, but he left the Trappists before ordination and returned to Nazareth to live as a hermit (1897–1900). In 1901 he was ordained at Viviers.
Thereupon he went back to the Sahara and established a hermitage at Beni-Abbès on the Morocco-Algeria frontier. He sought to bring Christianity to the Muslim desert tribes, not by preaching but by good example. By his life of contemplation and charity he aimed to show himself as a man of God and as "the universal brother," and thereby to prepare the way for later missionaries. In his hermitage, which he called "la Fraternité du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus," he kept the Blessed Sacrament always exposed and spent long hours in adoration. In 1905 he penetrated deeper into the Sahara and set up his hermitage in the Ahaggar Mountains near Tamanrasset. Respected by the Tuareg tribesmen, Foucauld was able to learn a great deal concerning their customs and language. He was murdered by a maurading band belonging to the fanatical Senusi sect. Foucauld had no disciples during life, but the publication of his personal papers inspired the founding of the little brothers of jesus (1933) and the little sisters of jesus (1936). The first steps toward Foucauld's beatification were taken by the prefect apostolic of Ghardaia in 1927. In 1947 the relevant documents were forwarded to Rome.
Bibliography: Oeuvres spirituelles (Paris 1958), anthology. r. bazin, Charles de Foucauld, Hermit and Explorer, tr. p. keelan (London 1923). a. fremantle, Desert Calling (New York 1949). m. carrouges, Soldier of the Spirit: The Life of C. de F., tr. m. c. hellin (New York 1956). j. f. six, Witness in the Desert, tr. l. noel (New York 1965); ed., Spiritual Autobiography of C. de F. (New York 1964); Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 5:729–741.
[a. j. wouters]