The History of the Foundation

The little sisters of the Lamb, who are Dominicans, were founded in 1981, and the little brothers of the Lamb in 1990. At the beginning of that foundation, one finds, of course, a “pre-history”, which gives light to what was to follow.  We must go back to 1968 and the years that followed.

Paris 1968

We were a few little sisters of the Roman Congregation of Saint Dominic, established in Paris, in the Latin Quarter, near the Odeon.  At that time, a “Cultural revolution” was taking place, like a violent wind that left chaos and disorder in its trail.  The philosophers Marx and Hegel had become the inspiration guiding many people; even Church communities were affected, and many priests and religious left the priesthood or the consecrated life.  In our own small community, which welcomed female students, a few flying cobblestones reached as far as our terrace, but none of this could separate us from the love of Jesus, which grew in our hearts.  The fraternal love that we were living, and the breath of the Spirit, were stronger than all this.  We put a poster in the chapel window, which any passer-by might read: “Chapel open to the public”.

A few young people from the university started to join us.  I, for my part, had received the signal grace of studying the Fathers of the Church at the Sorbonne with a group of Christian teachers who stood firm during the storm, and whom the wildest winds could not budge.  One day, in an amphitheater, a student cried out: “Who has lost this?”  I recognized my rosary, and dressed as I was in the Dominican habit, signaled that I was the owner and they passed it on to me.  From that day on, a good number of students found their way to our community.

The group that came to celebrate the liturgy kept growing.  All of us together drew from Eastern and Western patristic sources, we contemplated at length various icons of the Trinity, or of the Virgin and Child, we studied Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa, but above all, the Gospel.

Return to the Sources

Some young Dominican brothers, who were finding themselves in an identical situation, came to join us.  As they also were young students of Patristics, they loved the Church, Jesus Christ and his Gospel. We were “faithful to the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of bread and the prayers” (See Acts 2:42).  One sentence kept coming back in our prayer: “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little ones.” (Matthew 11:25).

“Little children”: we felt that we had to surrender ourselves to this, Jesus’ great blessing, and to let ourselves be drawn by the breath of the Spirit of praise and consolation, to the intimate Life of the Trinity.  We endlessly sang this blessed and life-giving Trinity:

O Blessed Trinity,
Eternal fount of life,
Sanctify us by your presence!
May we endlessly sing your Glory!

We experienced that the only true revolution takes place in the depths of the heart.  We had to live the Gospel of Jesus.  The Fathers of the Church were our teachers: Ambrose of Milan and Augustine, Cassian, Sophronius of Jerusalem and Maximus the Confessor, and Saint Thomas Aquinas whom Father Hubert was unveiling for us…  These became for us so many friends…  Our intention was to welcome Tradition in the newness of the today given by God, and this, within the heart of the Church, following the inspiration of Vatican II: in the context of those years, this amounted to… a revolution!

While the storm was raging, the Lord continued to build his Church on the rock of friendship, and we lived a deep fraternal unanimity.  It was at that time that our first encounter took place with Father Christoph Schönborn, o.p., who is at present the Cardinal-archbishop of Vienna in Austria.  At that time of course, we could not have guessed it.  He is now also the father of our community!  Moreover, his bishop’s motto is: “I call you friends” (John 15:25).

In the Light of the Gospel

Following the teaching of our holy father Saint Dominic, who had learned it from the monk Cassian, we meditated on the Word of God in the light of the Fathers of the Church.  We learned the Gospel by heart, we learned it with our heart and, as the Scriptures say, we “ate” it, we chewed it.  You may read what is said in the book of Ezekiel: “Eat the book” (Ez. 3:1), and in Saint John’s book of Revelations, the term is even more precise: “Devour the book” (Rev. 10:9).

Each day, in the light of the Gospel, we asked ourselves this question – and we continue to do so today: “Who is God?  Who is man?”  Who better than Jesus Christ and his holy Gospel can answer that question?  Life, a real, loving life, which enabled us to live, surged in our hearts and triumphed secretly over the nihilistic ambience.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart, led us on a path of peace that the violence of the times could not hamper.  And thus our life became each day more Marian: we were accustomed to say the rosary, a devotion that was particularly dear to Saint Dominic, but the “chewing” of the Gospel also united us to the blessed Virgin as she is presented in the Gospel: “Mary kept all these things in her heart”  (Luke 2:19).  Our small group of students and university personnel, and of Dominican brothers and sisters, remained gathered around Mary.  A renewed fervor was given us in prayer, and our friendship deepened with our contemplation of the Mystery of God.

We had no more wine, and here the best was being offered to us free of charge.  The grain of wheat fallen to the earth was dead, the sellers of ideology crowed their victory, but they did not know that if the grain fallen to the earth dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

In the Heart of the Church

In fact, life in the Holy Spirit was also surging in other groups and giving birth to new communities: a real springtime was dawning in the Church.  On the embers of a fire that has seemed to be dying, the Spirit of God had blown, and a new fire had secretly been lit in the hearts of all believers.  The light that the darkness cannot overpower (John 1:5) was in all hearts, a divine and holy unction had come to heal all our wounds.  Truly, Jesus is Savior and Lord, He gives us his Spirit, and the Church is our Mother, our Home.

The revolution of May 1968 had seemed to want to overcome everything, but it had been preceded in the heart of the Church, as we have said, by the Second Vatican Council, which was, if ever there was one, a true revolution, founded on the love of God and of all our brethren in this, our human nature.  The Council had given to the world a Church renewed by the Spirit of the Lord.  The liturgy of the Council allowed us to live at the rhythm of the heart of God and of his love for all mankind. 

The Gospel, if kept in the heart of Mary, lived with love of God and of neighbor, and nourishing our prayer, is a force of resistance which triumphs over every disorder and every evil.

In the heart of the Church, the civilization of Love was born. “Deep waters cannot quench love nor floods sweep it away” (Song of Songs 8:7).

Saint Dominic and…
Dominic, the “Child” Lost in the Night

In prayer during nights of adoration, the cry of our father Saint Dominic became ours: “My Mercy, what will become of sinners?” to which we added: “…among whom we are the first”.  In his prayer, Saint Dominic also ceaselessly said: “It is I who have sinned!”

“My Mercy, what will become of sinners?”  This cry of our father Saint Dominic which echoed during his nights of prayer and tugged at his heart during the day, this cry of supplication, was one which he perceived as emanating from the midst of the Trinity: God the Father, friend of mankind, turns towards his Son and calls to Him thus: “You, my Mercy, (a perfect expression of my merciful love), tell me, what will become of sinners?”  And the Son answers as the Scriptures tell us: “Here I am! I am coming, send me!” (Ps 39:8; Hebrews 10:7).

Saint Dominique
Saint Dominique

In union with this overwhelming mercy, Dominic stood up, ready for mission.  As for us, confident in his intercession, and obedient to Jesus and to his Gospel, we went too.

With a few university students, I started going at night to the hard neighborhoods that are the refuge of “those who lie in darkness” (Luke 1:79).  And there, we met the most deeply lost, the poorest of young people.  I cannot forget the face of a “child”, Dominic – just so! – aged sixteen at most.  He is graven inside me.  In Paris, these were the early years of drug addiction.  Dominic used to inject heroin, and death already marked his face.

Fire and Light!

That day I began to sense that the feeling of impotence that we experience when approaching the poor, and the fear that sometimes gnaws at us, are replaced by a love that our poor little hearts are incapable of producing, and which until then was unknown to us. Yes, another heart beats within ours, the heart of Jesus who loves the poor and saves them by becoming one with them and one with me.  Yes, the Mercy that sent us to the poor is a love that is stronger than death.

From the midst of that darkness, among so many faces full of suffering, the “Holy Face” of Jesus irradiated the light of the Love that the darkness cannot reach.  The “Divine Beggar” begged for our faith, our love, our adoration, so that the tenderness of the Father and the consolation of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Resurrection which overcomes darkness, evil and death, could break through into the night of this world.

But of course the reality of running the students’ home interfered with the welcome offered to the poor, and things could not go on like this.  The buildings themselves could not accommodate it, and a few neighboring families started to worry.  We handed it all over to the Lord, and invoked the Holy Spirit together.  In the fraternal and prayerful discussion that followed, the next stage took shape.

This first “head-on” and cordial encounter with the poor, this joining of the fight against evil and death in the darkness of night, were leading us to a second call: a call to conversion, to faith, to belief in the Gospel, to union with Jesus in his Passion and his Cross, which are victorious over every evil and even over death itself.  We had to remain in prayer at the feet of the Cross of Jesus.

Vézelay 1974

In August 1974, we went to Vézelay on retreat, at the bottom of the hill, in a small Franciscan hermitage called La Cordelle.  In 1217, this place had welcomed a few of the first companions of Saint Francis of Assisi, among whom was Brother Pacificus.  They had come to live and preach the Gospel.  And in our day, their brethren welcomed nine little Dominican sisters from Paris.  We wanted to listen to the Word of God in this place full of silence and light, where the Gospel had taken root so strongly.  The retreat was preached by Brother Jean-Claude, a Franciscan.  It was a decisive encounter.  This brother of Saint Francis shared the same desire as us: prayer, a passion for the Gospel, a desire to become totally one with Jesus, the need to proclaim, like Jesus, the Good News to the poor.

Poor and Beggars

You know, a story is told about a meeting that took place one day between Saints Francis and Dominic, who ended by embracing each other…  Both Francis and Dominic were poor for Christ, beggars for him.  No-one has forgotten that Saint Francis had wed “Lady Poverty”, yes, everyone knows him as the poverello; but who remembers that Dominic also imitated Christ’s own poverty? [1]   The grace of this encounter between the two Saints was reaching down as far as ourselves.[2]  Our story from now on would include the friendship that once united our fathers Saint Dominic and Saint Francis.

During this retreat, a prayer of petition kept coming back, summing up all our other prayers: “Give us, Lord, the gift of the impossible poverty of your Gospel!”  At the end of the retreat, no other prayer remained.  We were not able to invent the smallest human means or strategy to enable us to live the Gospel in the footsteps of Saint Dominic, no community thought had been put down, no project had been planned: there was nothing except an immense hope, a renewed gift of our lives, and we were sure that God would provide.

A Sign as Big as a House

When we were about to disperse, and each little sister was going away for her annual period of solitude, two little sisters still remained for a few hours more in Vézelay.  Then, a very small event took place.  A Franciscan brother, happy to find the two little sisters still there, flung out a remark that seemed a simple jest: “If you want to live as the poor do, there is in the village a small house that someone is ready to lend to you for a few months!”

Back in Paris, everyone in the community saw, in this offer of a little house in Vézelay, a sign given in answer to our prayer.  We had to go.  The young university students also recognized in this a sign from God.  God’s signs are often very small, and furthermore, the unknown awaited us, and this was just the way the Lord liked to act!

“Leave your country and your kindred for a country that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).  “Go, sell what you own, give your money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).  Yes, the time had come for us to leave everything once more, the university environment, Paris, the poor also, in order to follow Jesus and Jesus alone, poor and crucified.  We had to go “into the desert”, in order to be sent again in God’s own time.

Two sisters were sent to Vézelay, an older sister and I.  Sister Jean-Paul, o.p., who was then the provincial superior, confirmed this mission with a prophetic word: “In order to know whether something comes from the Holy Spirit, we must do it!”  We left “without gold or silver” in order to live in prayer and poverty.

At the beginning of November 1974, Vézelay welcomed us, and each morning its basilica was full of the Savior’s light, “the rising sun which comes to visit us” (cf. Luke 1: 78), and inhabited by the presence of Saint Mary Magdalen.  We entrusted to her intercession all those we had met during our night visits and began to follow her schooling, “sitting at the Lord’s feet” and listening to his Word (cf. Luke 10:39), with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who “kept all those things in her heart”.

All Saints 1974

Living in Vézelay allowed us to see Brother Jean-Claude again.  He was our spiritual father at first, but then the Lord later gave him to us in order to found the Community of the Lamb.  Father Christoph Schönborn and Brother Jean-Claude themselves give an account of these first days in Vézelay.  Let us listen to them.

Brother Jean-Claude recounts: “On All Saints’ Day 1974, in Vézelay, I found myself in a very small house which was very poor: there Father Christoph Schönborn entrusted the Lord’s Eucharistic presence to little sister Marie and little sister Reginald.  That was the beginning of the Community of the Lamb, but we did not know it yet.  During the previous days, both Brother Michel Hubaut, o.f.m., the parish priest, and I, had been getting that little house ready.  The whole story was already present in embryo…  It is good to keep this in mind in order not to lose anything of God’s gift.

“It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).  On the first day, Jesus took possession of this place, He was the only Master, the Friend, the Bridegroom, the Lamb.  Putting the Blessed Sacrament in this place would constitute from then on the point of departure, the basis, the first seed, the only reference point.

“I no longer call you servants, but friends” (John 15:15).  Yes, it was friendship that joined us together: Marie and her sisters, Father Christoph, the two Franciscans… and this was only the start of the marvels brought about by the phrase “Love one another as I have loved you” (cf. John 13:34), which had been so clearly indicated at the beginning.

A house of prayer now functioned right in the middle of the village, far from large towns, but among people.  They called it Saint Dominic’s hermitage – and indeed, during the first nine months, little sister Marie lived there all on her own.  It was a place of retreat, of solitude, dedicated to praise and intercession, to solitary prayer, to the liturgy, which would gradually increase, to study, to the keeping and transmission of the Word of God.

“Blessed are the poor” (Matthew 5:3).  It was a very poor little house, which reflected the first of the Beatitudes.  Together, we prayed: “Lord, give us the gift of the impossible poverty of your Gospel!”  A while later, begging and wandering inevitably flowered out of that mystery of evangelical poverty.”

“As for me, I am still astonished”, says Father Christoph, “to have been the privileged witness of these first hours when, by accompanying you to Vézelay, I celebrated the first Eucharist and left the presence of Jesus to little sisters Reginald and Marie, so that they could adore him in that very poor little house, such as were loved by our father Saint Dominic.  I read the Gospel of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  Of course, I preached on this subject, as everyone remembers.  It was the first of November 1974, All Saints Day.  I remember my mother’s words – she was with me on that day – as we left our two sisters who were remaining there with Jesus: “You are leaving them… in that poverty!”  I believed, as they did also, that they were “blessed”…. Yes, filled with that joy that no-one can take away from us when we discover that it is possible to leave everything for Jesus, and that the Lord works it out in our lives.”

Nine Months in the Hermitage

Our two little sisters remained there together for two months, after which the Paris community called for help, and asked little sister Reginald to go back.  For little sister Marie, it was the hour of Saint Dominic’s hermitage.

A time of solitary prayer, of welcoming young university students and the poor in great numbers, a time when the Lamb called us to follow him.

Return to the Sources in the Spirit of Vatican II

During that time, I was asked to study the Latin texts which explain the original and primitive charism of the Order of Preachers.  Thus, we were invited to return to “the founders’ sources” as Vatican II had requested.  It was an overwhelming grace to experience the coincidence between the recent abandonment to divine Providence and what the texts were showing. 

The charism of Saint Dominic was unveiled, and expressed startlingly and succinctly: to preach the Gospel while being totally united with the Suffering Servant, “imitating the poverty of the poor Christ”, becoming a beggar every day in order to reveal the begging Love of God who goes as far as offering himself up as a sacrifice; in one word, becoming a beggar in order to reveal the Lamb of God to the world: “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29), all the evil of the world.

These texts revealed the experience of our father Saint Dominic, when he prayed at night.  He contemplated the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ pierced Heart allows us to perceive the Father’s begging Love, awaiting the lost sheep whom the Son is seeking, He, the Envoy of Mercy.  This light emanating from begging Love transfigured our father Saint Dominic hour by hour… into the image of the suffering Servant, whose features he was acquiring.  A poor beggar, there he was, in every place, preaching a Christ who was poor and despised.

God, in his Providence, was leading us through a succession of small events, in the footsteps of Saint Dominic, to follow Jesus.  These texts were throwing light on the gift that God was giving us every day, and meditating them became for us a thanksgiving.  Everything that we had been living was becoming clear: an evangelical life, such as Dominic wanted it, had just been given to us: simple, and with the taste of water from a living fountain.

And as always, God’s gift was embedded within humble daily life.

A Community in the Heart of the Church: 1982-1983

Soon other sisters, and then some young women, joined the first three little sisters.  In 1982, the Mother General of our Congregation called me to say: “What you are living is something new, you must have the courage to make a new foundation.”  In reality, we were giving birth to a new community within the Dominican family.  We had to found it within the Church.  But which bishop would be willing to receive, under the protection of his episcopal staff, this very small newly born flock?  We asked the Blessed Virgin.  And so, little sister Marie and I took to the road and went to Lourdes as pilgrims to beg from the Virgin Mary a bishop “who would be a father, a brother, a friend”.

After many days, we entered the town on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, on February 11, 1982.  We were hastening to the grotto, when suddenly the horn of a car rang out.  A long-standing friend who lived in the area came out of the car: “What are you doing here?” he exclaimed.  We told him briefly about our errand.  “I know just the bishop you are looking for”, he said, “and so it must be for this reason that I have driven to Lourdes.  This morning, I was literally pushed to the wheel and in my heart, I constantly heard: ‘Father Jean in Lourdes!’  Yes, for you, it is Father Jean Chabbert, the archbishop of Rabat in Morocco!”

It is true that we had met this bishop a year earlier during the Eucharistic Congress in Lourdes.  We had spoken with him from the heart about what we were living.  But Morocco!  For a foundation of the Church!  We simply could not consider it at the very beginning!  Our friend, though, knew that Father Jean Chabbert was about to return to France, and proposed calling him at the archbishop’s residence in Rabat.  Then and there, too!  It would be a sign if he himself were to answer.  We called.  Father Jean did indeed answer and yes, he was willing to welcome the small community in his new diocese as soon as he arrived.

Later, recalling this date of February 11, 1982, Father Jean confided to us that he had asked the Virgin Mary the grace of remaining mentally all day in prayer at the grotto.  A few months later, the nomination became official: Bishop Jean Chabbert was being sent to Perpignan.

All twelve of us little sisters arrived in Perpignan on January 23, 1983, on the feast of St Thomas Aquinas.  We found a house at number 33, Joseph-Denis Street, in the St James’ neighborhood, which was poor and populated by gypsy and North African families, just two steps away from the bishop’s residence.  Already, two “watchers”. [3] had taken part unofficially in this foundation.  They would become the first little brothers of the Lamb.

On February 6, 1983, Mgr Jean Chabbert, archbishop of Perpignan, recognized the Community of the Lamb officially as a new foundation within the Church.  On July 16 of the same year, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Father Vincent de Couesnongle, who was then Master of the Order, recognized the Community as “a new branch born on to the trunk of the Order of Preachers”.  He wrote this to us: “And since one likes to share out one’s riches among brothers and sisters, I declare that from now on, you do participate in the merits of the Order which itself, like Saint Dominic in the days of Prouilhe, already feels enriched by your prayers and the witness of your lives.  In this communion and under the protection of Our Lady of Contemplation, I bless you in the name of Saint Dominic.”

Again, on August 8, 1990, feast of Saint Dominic, Father Jean welcomed the little brothers officially within the Church.  Then, on November 22, 1999, Father Timothy Radcliffe, o.p., Master of the Order, recognized the little brothers “as being part of the Dominican family.”  Two years later, his successor, Fr Carlos Aspiroz, o.p., confirmed this welcome.

[1] Cf. Early texts of the Dominican order, and in particular the Pontifical Bulls that confirm the Order.

[2] Historians can demonstrate nowadays the importance that St Dominic gave to it in the establishment of his own charism.

[3] This is the term we use to indicate those who come closer to a religious community in order to discern their vocation.

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