The Missionary Family Donum Dei was founded by a French priest, Fr. Marcel Roussel-Galle, who was born in 1910 in a little village in the Franche-Comté region and who died in Rome on 22 February 1984.
Having been ordained at Besançon in 1934, Fr. Roussel became intensely preoccupied with the issues facing the Church at that time. Cardinal Suhard had stirred the Church in France to become conscious of the profound de-christianisation of the country. Fr. Roussel was deeply distressed when Fr. Godin published his book, “France, A Mission Country”.
For Fr. Roussel, Thérèse is second only to the Blessed Virgin as his confidante, his constant friend. It was with Thérèse that he would build a spiritual Family. It was also with her that he would discover the burning thirst of God : to pour his love into the hearts of all people.
Fr. Roussel also understood that his mission was greater than him and that ultimately his mission was to found a Spiritual Family which, following Thérèse, would live the offering to Merciful Love in the world and would be its apostle.
As Parish Priest in the little village of Doubs from 1942 to 1947, he wrote : “the pagan masses attract me : I would love to evangelise them through young women who have given themselves and consecrated themselves totally to God …”
Fr. Roussel went to Paris in 1947 and very quickly he succeeded in bringing together a number of young women who were attracted by the ideal that he proposed. On the 11th February 1950 he gathered them together and gave them the name “Missionary Workers of the Immaculate”.
What was their vocation ? Like Thérèse, their vocation consisted in offering to Jesus their virginity, their entire love and to offer themselves to his Merciful Love.
What was their mission ? To help others to rediscover Christ as he showed himself to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, and to reveal to the whole of humanity Jesus as God’s gift.
The first people to whom the Missionary Workers carried their faith in the Merciful Love of Christ were the prostitutes in the Pigalle district of Paris. They also ministered to the workers in the large factories on the outskirts of Paris, to secondary school students, to the sick in hospital and to other workers in various different types of work.
As the years went by, the Family grew : the number of foundations increased and vocations came from different parts. After their time of formation in France and Rome, the Missionary Workers offered themselves to Jesus as spouses through the same offering to Merciful Love as that made by the little Thérèse.
Their communities are always international in order to show that Merciful Love wants to unite people of all races in one family.
They live their vocation in many different ways : as individuals working in the work place ; the Eau Vive restaurant chain ; centres for prayer ; apostolates to prisoners, poor areas and hospitals, as well as catechetical and chaplaincy services in colleges, etc.
In 1981, some mothers approached the Missionary Workers requesting that they be given spiritual help in order to strengthen their life as spouses and mothers. Faced with the world-wide crisis that was undermining the human family, Fr. Roussel felt called to found a movement of mothers to be apostles in their own homes and in the homes of others. These mothers, called Missionary Mothers, became organised and the formation meetings brought them into contact with the way of Thérèse. They too, with their husbands, offered themselves to Merciful Love.
In 1984, Fr. Roussel found that his Spiritual Family had different faces : Missionary Workers, mothers, families, and young people. Despite different ways of living, the same spirit of love was in their hearts. Father Roussel decided that all the members should be grouped together into one spiritual family to be called the Donum Dei Missionary Family. “If only you knew the gift God is offering you”. He understood that this Family could not remain faithful to its mission to live the message of little Thérèse in the world if it was not – like Thérèse – rooted in the Carmelite Order. Shortly before his death on the 22nd February 1984, Fr. Roussel entrusted the Donum Dei Missionary Family to the Carmelite Order so that it would be incorporated into the International Tertiary Secular Order.
This was finally realised on the 22nd February 1987. At this moment, there are about 30 groups of the Donum Dei Family spread across the five continents.
The Missionary Family is present in Lisieux since November 1995 at the invitation of the Diocese. Its mission is to maintain the Louis and Zélie Martin Foyer – 15 Avenue Sainte Thérèse – as a centre of prayer and accommodation at the service of the pilgrim to Lisieux. The Missionary Workers of the Immaculate also participate in the liturgical life of the Saint Thérèse Pilgrimage by leading the singing at Mass and by organising prayer liturgies at the request of groups coming to Lisieux.
The Donum Dei Missionary Family is also present at Lisieux through its members who often gather with the Missionary Workers of the Immaculate for days of spiritual reflection and family sharing.