Priest and Founder
Pierre Bienvenu arrived in Paris at the beginning of October 1816 with the declared intention of studying law but with some uncertainty of mind. On the evening of 10 October, while wandering aimlessly in the streets, he went into the church of St. Sulpice. His eyes were drawn to a statue of Our Lady holding Jesus in her arms in such a way that she seemed to be presenting him to those who were there, praying to her.
It was an intense moment of grace for the young man. He went to confession straightaway. The priest encouraged him to think about the priesthood and invited him to visit the Seminary of St. Sulpice, at that time the most prestigious seminary in France, some would say in the world. Three days later, abandoning his plans to pursue a career in law, he entered that seminary and began his studies at Issy-les-Moulineaux.
A Divine inspiration
At the Seminary he took the call to holiness addressed to all the baptised very seriously. He often contemplated the Holy Family whom he referred to as “the sweet image of the Trinity”. It was in this intimate dialogue with Jesus, Mary and Joseph that he discovered his spiritual identity. It can be summed up in one phrase that constitutes the core of the founding charism he was to receive:
Seek God Alone in all things like Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Pierre Bienvenu cultivated that precious grace, the call to renew the Church of his time, to present to the world a God who was near and a Church with a ‘family face’, something for which the first Christian communities have left us a taste. Inspired by God he conceived the plan of a vast Society, something very new for his time. It would welcome within its fold women and men of all conditions and vocations.
A new Family in the Church
Ordained priest on 5 June 1819 in the parish church of St. Sulpice in Paris, he celebrated his first Mass the following day, Trinity Sunday. He was appointed curate in the parish of St. Eulalie, Bordeaux, in August of that year. He continued to carrying his heart the divine inspiration received in the seminary. He interpreted it as a sign when, shortly after his arrival in Bordeaux, three young girls who wanted to give themselves to God came to him for spiritual Direction.
Fr Noailles asked the advice of experienced people and heartened by the encouragement of his bishop he brought them together officially to live in community on 28 May 1820, the feast of the Blessed Trinity. This was the first community of the Association of the Holy Family which Fr Noailles continued to expand and develop by founding various constituent congregations, branches and groupings until 1859.
During his lifetime over 20,000 people had become lay, religious and priest members of the Holy Family and the Association had been established in 46 dioceses in France, Spain, Belgium and Algeria.
After a prolonged and painful illness, bravely and patiently endured, Fr Noailles died on 8 February 1861. His last message to those gathered at his bedside was:
“Have but one heart, one mind, one will – to make Our Lord loved and to win all hearts to him. Then, this good Master will dwell in your midst, and the Holy Family Association, faithful to its mission, will continue to do good upon the earth.”
For more information on the life and work of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles click here