Cardinal Mercier and the Friends of Jesus
Georges Lemaitre was strongly influenced by the ideas and convictions of Desiré-Joseph Mercier. The Cardinal preached the importance of a return to the Scriptures, and a more real piety for the secular clergy. Thus in the 1910s, he inauguratedthe Fraternityof the Friends of Jesus, a spiritual group, that Lemaître undoubtedly joined during his stay at Saint Rombaut House, where he was in contact with Canon Allaer, in charge of the fraternity. The community was canonically erected on December 27th, 1927 by Mercier's successor, Cardinal Van Roey.
Georges Lemaître had lived his faith intensely since the war's end: his commitment to God sought to be complete and radical. The fraternity of the Friends of Jesus fulfilled that need; there he found a return to the Scriptures similar to what Bloy had fostered in his exegeses. The fraternity allowed Lemaître to live that theological and spiritual dimension, even when he had to silence it in his contacts with the scientific world. For that matter, he never spoke of his membership in theFraternity,neither to his family, nor his colleagues and friends.
He respected the Fraternity's principles: an hour of reflection after daily mass, 10 days of annual silent retreat at Regina Pacis House. He pronounced his final three vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) on August 1st, 1930. He even pronounced the final vow in 1942: that of giving oneself to Christ. The Friends of Jesus centred their spirituality on contemplation, but also on apostolic missions: Lemaître in particular helped Chinese students living in Louvain and even went so far as to learn their language.
This point shows us that while being a great scientist, Lemaître was animated by a deep faith, which he discussed with few people, but which was very much present.
During these annual silent retreats, he filled many notebooks. He laid down his thoughts on religion, science, preparing courses, prayers in Latin … the various aspects of his life no longer needed to be as separate as in contact with scientists. A certain number of notebooks have come down to us witnessing to Georges Lemaître's annual retreats in the fraternity. Yet in his notes, we count as many spiritual and religious reflections as equations and scientific notes. A stream of thought that is intertwined, never at rest, nourished by its various facets. Thus in a notebook dating back to August 1940, he enumerates the “duties of state” which he has not accomplished “sufficiently up to now”: he cites a prayer, course preparation, “under present circumstances, studying German” and finishes by enumerating his research projects. In his daily notes of the August 1947 retreat, personal notes and reading notes are side by side with Jan Van Ruysbroeck, Saint John ofthe Cross…