Little sister Magdeleine

Magdeleine Hutin (Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus) was born in Paris on April 26, 1898, into a family originally from eastern France. Her childhood was deeply marked by the First World War: it decimated her family and destroyed her village. From her earliest years she wanted to give her life totally to God. 

Her father gifted her with his love for Arab people. Discovering the person of Charles de Foucauld in 1921 was a powerful experience for her. Like him, she dreamed of centering her life on Jesus and living it out among Muslim people. She wanted to witness by her whole life to the love of God for every human being, like Jesus had done at Nazareth.

Magdeleine suffered from severe arthritis, which blocked the realization of her dream…until the day she was told that the only hope for treating her condition would be to go and live in a country where it never rained.

She finally left for Algeria in 1936, and there she tried to attend to the needs of the poor and neglected local population.

Magdeleine had an intense spiritual experience during which the Virgin Mary offered her the Infant Jesus. She was captivated by the mystery of God, gentle and humble, and it filled her intimate relationship with Him. “He took my hand, and I followed Him blindly.” And God led her to the poorest and most destitute of people, in order to share their lives and be there among them a little sign of His tenderness.

It was in this spirit that Magdeleine, now Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus, founded the Little Sisters of Jesus in 1939. In its beginnings it was consecrated entirely to the Muslim people who lived as nomads in the Algerian Sahara. “I saw that love between friends could exist amidst differences of race, culture, and background. They were so kind to me, so gentle, it was touching.” Sharing and respect, in friendship with the “little”people and in mutual trust, became the pillars of the community she was giving birth to.

Since it involved an entirely new way of living religious life, L.Sr. Magdeleine submitted her intuitions as a foundress to the mediating authority of the Church. Her meeting with Pius XII in 1944 was the first encounter in a filial dialogue she maintained with several Popes. She always kept a great love for the Church even as she rigorously and tenaciously defended the essential characteristics of the new vocation she envisioned.

In 1946 the community opened toward the entire world. During this period L.Sr. Magdeleine relived the Passion of Jesus with great intensity. She retained the effects of this spiritual experience “as a wound in her heart,” an immense compassion in the face of all forms of suffering, a burning love that led her to the farthest ends of the world. Foundations multiplied on all the continents, at a rhythm that defied human prudence. The “God of the impossible” was guiding her: L.Sr. Magdeleine travelled throughout the world seeking the most excluded, the poorest, the most isolated, and planted communities among them.

L.Sr. Magdeleine knew from experience where hatred between nations could lead. That suffering created in her an immense desire for unity. She wanted her community to be a place of encounter and dialogue between persons of different religions, cultures, and backgrounds. Beginning in 1956 she began organizing an annual voyage through Eastern Europe, beyond the “Iron Curtain.” She grew close to the persecuted Christians there, weaving a fabric of friendship with everyone she met, believers and non-believers. During her travels in Russia she joined Orthodox Christians in their prayers, and several members of that Church became her close friends. Ecumenism became one of her priorities.

On September 8, 1989, the Little Sisters of Jesus celebrated the 50th anniversary of their community. Shortly before, L.Sr. Magdeleine had fallen. She was 90 years old, her body tired and unable to recover. Finally she saw her longing for heaven granted. “I can’t wait any longer,” were her final words. On the evening of November 6, 1989, she was welcomed into the embrace of the Eternal.

Whether it was pure chance, or Providence…on the eve of her funeral the Berlin wall fell, the border between the two parts of Germany was breached and the Iron Curtain was opened, not to be closed again.

On October 13, 2021, Pope Francis proclaimed L.Sr. Magdeleine “Venerable.”