Nicholas-Jules Reche was the firstborn of Claude and Anne Flausset Reche, villagers of Lorraine. His parents were not a happy couple. Claude was zealously religious but poor. Anne was driven by their poverty into fits of depression.
Nicholas-Jules inherited his father’s propensity to religious fervor. He was reported by his teachers to be the “only serious pupil” in the catechism class, and eventually he began to teach catechism himself. A devout participant in religious devotions, he communicated well and was by nature earnest and hardworking. But throughout adolescence he showed no other signs of a religious vocation.
When he reached 21, Nicholas found employment as the coachman of a well-to-do family. Next he was hired as a mule driver by a contractor who was building a new church. In this job he became more devotional. His fellow workmen, surprised at his reciting the rosary while directing the wagons at the building site, came to refer to him as “the bigot” or “the fanatic”. Actually, Reche was giving more time to prayer and self-denial. He also began to help the local Brothers of the Christian Schools in giving instruction to the teenagers at their Sunday evening classes. In fact, his relative success in this work prompted him to consider joining these teaching brothers. He did so in 1862, receiving the name Brother Arnold. All went reasonably well, and in 1871 he took his final vows in the Community.
From 1863 to 1877 he was on the faculty of the Brothers’ boarding school at Reims. Eventually he won his teaching diploma in Paris, and was also awarded a decoration by the International Red Cross for nursing both French and German soldiers who were casualties of the Franco-Prussian War.
Despite, however, his apparent progress as a teaching brother, Brother Arnold considered himself a failure. True, he was not a good classroom teacher. Only when he was teaching Christian doctrine did he hold his students’ attention. At other times he found it hard to maintain schoolroom discipline. Timidity, he believed, was the problem. “Pray for me,” he wrote to a kinsman, “that I may not be altogether useless, that I may accomplish all the good that God expects of me, that I won’t be an obstacle to the good work that the Brothers around me are trying to do.”
In 1877 his superiors assigned him to a task better adapted to his talents: a director of novices. Here he could speak out of his own prayerful experience without being brushed off. His theme with the novices was the vital importance of strict obedience to the Rule, and the need not only of humility but of daily humiliations. Attentive to his own devotional life, not only in community practices but in private practices, the “failure” had now hit his stride. In March 1890 he was appointed director general of the Brothers’ house at Courlancy. Although by then in poor health, he accepted the task out of obedience. That same October, however, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that brought about his death. His tomb in the public cemetery at Reims soon became a focus of pilgrimage, and miracles were reported by his devotees. Hailed as “an admirable guide for the young in the ways of prayer and charity”, the cause for his canonization was launched in 1938.
What Brother Arnold had considered his largely “useless” life had actually been a slow-paced evolution engineered by God at every point. Many of us, I am sure, are more successful in God’s eyes than in our own. For Him the key question is whether we have served well the unique purpose for which He created us. He does not always reveal that unique purpose during our lives.
Pope John Paul II beatified Brother Arnold Reche in November 1987.
–Father Robert F. McNamara