Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of
six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith during high school and joined the
French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his
regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi.
When he refused to give her up, he was dismissed from the
army. Later he reenlisted in Algeria after he had left Mimi. He resigned from the army when he was
refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco. With the help of a Jewish
rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded
in a book that was well received.
Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, when he returned to France he
resumed the practice of his Catholic faith in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche,
France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. He left them and in 1897 began to work as
gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clares nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. He returned to
France and was ordained a priest in 1901.
Later that year he returned to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a
monastic religious community in North Africa, offering hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews or
people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no
A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned
their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Taureg dictionary and to translate the
Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. His
two-volume collection of Tuareg poetry was published after his death.
In early 1909 he visited
France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to
Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 he wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the
love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it
is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach
and that we will only attain in heaven.”
The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in
Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were
shot to death on December 1, 1916.
Five religious congregations, associations and spiritual institutes (Little
Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of
the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden yet
hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005.