Bruce had the honour of working with Abbe Pierre on and off over a periopd of 27 years, founding and funding

Henri-Antoine Groues (Abbe Pierre)

History of Emmaus

Emmaus was founded in Paris in 1949 by Father Henri-Antoine Groues, better known as the Abbe Pierre (pictured above and below), a Catholic priest and MP. During the Second World War he had been a member of the French Resistance; after the war had finished he began to fight for the rights of those who found themselves homeless.


A young Abbe Pierre

One night, a man called Georges was brought to the Abbe Pierre. Homeless and despairing, he had tried to commit suicide in the Seine. The Abbe Pierre did not just offer him a place to sleep. He asked for his help. He told Georges of the homeless men and women who came to him for help and how he could not cope with the problem on his own. Could Georges join him in his mission to help them?


Georges Legay: the first Emmaus Companion

Georges became the first Emmaus Companion, living with the Abbe Pierre and helping him to build temporary homes for those in need. He later said ‘Whatever else he might have given me – money, home, somewhere to work – I’d have still tried to kill myself again. What I was missing, and what he offered, was something to live for.’

Working for a living


Abbe Pierre: Ragman & Builder

In 1951, Abbe Pierre resigned as an MP. He no longer had a salary to support 18 men who now formed the first Community and were still building homes for those who desperately needed them. To raise the money they needed, the men became ‘rag pickers’, taking things that people no longer wanted and selling them on. So the concept of Companions running self-supporting businesses, with the profits going to those in greater need was born.

France 1951: People rag-picking

Spreading the word

One January day in 1954 the Abbe Pierre learnt that the baby of a homeless couple had frozen to death in the night. Some days later he heard that an old woman had died of hypothermia on the streets having been evicted from her home.

Angered by these needless deaths, Abbe Pierre sent an open letter to newspapers and made a radio appeal to the nation. The French public responded and gifts and support flooded in.

Emmaus Communities opened across France. The Abbe Pierre travelled the world spreading the word of Emmaus, causing Communities to be established in mainland Europe, French West Africa, the Far East and South America.

   Abbe Pierre: 1912 - 2007