Father Marie-Dominique Philippe was born on September 8, 1912 at Cysoing, France, the eighth of twelve children in a family who gave the Church three Dominican brothers and four contemplative religious sisters.
After having completed his secondary education with the Jesuits at Lille, he entered the Order of Saint Dominic in November, 1930, at Amiens.
He pronounced his religious vows in November, 1931, and pursued his studies in philosophy and theology at the Saulchoir in Kain (Belgium) from 1931 to 1938. He was ordained priest in July, 1936. Having first graduated in philosophy (Wisdom in Aristotle being the subject of his lectorat dissertation)he went on to complete a doctorate in theology.
After obtaining an additional diploma of Higher Studies, he taught philosophy and theology at the Saulchoir at Etiolles (the Dominican House of Studies of the Paris Province) from 1939 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1962, and philosophy at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) from 1945 to 1982.
Early on in his studies, Father Philippe felt that there was a need for a renewal in the teaching of philosophy and theology and that for this to happen it was necessary to return to the respective sources of each: experience, as Aristotle understands it, and contemplative faith, in the footsteps of St Thomas Aquinas and St John, whose writings left a profound mark on him; he was to come back to them unceasingly throughout the rest of his life. His search for the truth became ordered according to the three wisdoms: philosophical wisdom, theological wisdom and mystical wisdom.
In addition to his teaching, Father “Marie-Do” continued to give philosophical and theological conferences – mainly in France and Switzerland – to diverse audiences (to secretaries of Christian Trade Organizations, business executives, psychoanalysts, doctors, Catholic Family Associations, charismatic renewal groups, artists, etc.).
He also preached retreats in many convents (in particular those of the Carmelite, Benedictine and Dominican Orders and also in the houses of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem) and in various Foyers de Charité (Houses of Charity) in France, but principally at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure where Marthe Robin lived and where he gave the annual priestly retreat for seventeen years, as well as several retreats for the Foyer members. He also preached in Foyers in Senegal, Togo, Rwanda, and other countries, and also to many youth groups.
From 1949 onwards, Father Philippe wrote numerous philosophical works as well as works of spiritual theology, several of which have been translated into other languages. Today these total more than thirty-five published works, in addition to which are large number of published articles. They cover a vast field of study and interest: philosophy of art, reflections on mathematics and medicine, metaphysical studies, commentaries on the Gospel of St John, writings on the mystery of Christ and on the Virgin Mary, books on the family.
In Fribourg in 1975, at the request of some French students, he founded the Community of the Brothers of St John, he himself remaining a Dominican, followed a few years later by the Community of Contemplative Sisters and shortly afterwards of Apostolic Sisters. These three communities have been joined by a number of lay people – the Oblates of St John – and together these communities form a new spiritual family in the Church: the Family of St John.
Upon his return to France in 1982, and whilst continuing to pursue his varied apostolate, he devoted himself principally to the teaching of philosophy and theology in the formation houses of the Brothers of St John in Rimont and St Jodard. As its founder and Prior General he taught and led the new community, which rapidly experienced a considerable growth and international expansion. Since a meeting in 1974, a profound friendship had developed between Father Philippe and Karol Wojtyla. In letters and numerous meetings, John Paul II continued to encourage Father Philippe in his philosophical research and in his responsibility as regards the Brothers and Sisters of the Family of Saint John.
Father Jean-Pierre-Marie having taken over the responsibility as Prior General of the Community in 2001, Father Philippe, as founder, continued to remain in close contact with the Brothers and Sisters, tirelessly passing on to them the fruit of his philosophical and theological search through conferences and retreats. He also continued to publish works in spiritual theology and philosophy, notably Retour à la Source (Fayard, 2005), in which he offers his philosophical reflection on the human person.
In Ars, France, on June 30, 2006, he celebrated his 70th anniversary of priestly ordination. The following day, Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and presiding at the ordinations of several brothers of St John, paid Father Philippe a moving tribute. A few weeks later, following a stroke, Father Philippe lost the ability to speak. He remained in a profound silence, serenely awaiting the encounter with the One whom he so greatly desired to know and to make known. He died on August 26, 2006, he left a luminous heritage of a life entirely devoted to the service of Christ and of mankind.