A Holy Family Priest
Fr. Jean Louis tells his story
A long time ago when I was seventeen years old, I was at a camp organised by the Eucharistic Youth Movement. A companion to whom I had spoken about my desire to be a missionary in Africa said to me, “The best way to see things clearly is to personalise your faith”. The result was that instead of becoming a White Father, I became a diocesan priest in Gironde. And I am certain that the good advice I received guided me during my teenage years and young adulthood. The I met a Holy Family Apostolic Sister who told me about the Priest Associates – one of the five Vocations that constitute the Family of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles.
My first memories of the Christian life go back to the days of my childhood and youth – being introduced to prayer in my family, Sunday Mass and the priests encouraging us to become involved in the life of the parish.
Then during my seminary training I made three big discoveries: The word of God, the teachings of Vatican II and the richness of the spiritual trends down through the centuries. I am grateful that these three focal points moulded me into the priest that I am today and continue to inspire me. I also believe that this way of seeing Church as being composed of a diversity of baptismal Vocations prepared me for saying “Yes” to becoming a Priest Associate. Throughout the assignments that I received from successive bishops I have almost always been able to work with young people, adults, religious sisters and priests. We shared the deep conviction that the Church, in the renewed vision of Vatican II, had to be a people, a family within which each one shared with the others the treasures she/he received from the Holy Spirit for the good of all. I am amazed at how much I have received and have been able to share during my priestly life.
I have always loved reading the bible thanks to a pocket bible that was given to me on the occasion of my profession of faith at the age of twelve. I loved the Gospel sharings that we had with both young people and adults. At the moment, the practice of lectio divina is a great support for my spirituality. I have also discovered the importance of preaching in the ministry of a priest working in a parish. I humbly confess that, until recently, I found the art of homily giving very difficult. Thank God, the Holy Spirit finally took pity on me and gave me a greater charism in that area. During my formation as a Priest Associate I discovered what an essential place the word of God had for our Founder as nourishment for his spiritual life.
Thanks to my grandmother and a visit to Lisieux when I was ten I discovered Carmelite spirituality through St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. During my seminary training I was able to deepen my understanding of various spiritual families. Before meeting the Holy Family, I was happy to receive nourishment from Carmelite spirituality and from the works of St. Francis de Sales. At the same time, I deepened my understanding of the importance of meeting the Lord with the whole of my personality as a human being in tune with the realism and simplicity of the gospel.
When the Sister who became my accompanier suggested that I read the report of the meeting of the Priest Associates in Kandy (Sri Lanka) in 2004, I realised that I was called to this vocation. In the light of this, I re-read my life as a Christian and as a priest. The Lord had been preparing me for this for a long time by giving me the desire to live my ministry as a diocesan priest in a spiritual family. When I read the life of Pierre Bienvenu, I discovered the place of the word of God, the harmony of the various Vocations and the need to live the evangelical life with a family spirit. I was so happy to find confirmation of what I was trying to live in my daily pastoral life: promoting the desire to make the Church a huge Family gathered together in God like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
During my formation I discovered other aspects of Holy Family spirituality – the spirit of God Alone, attentiveness to the signs of the times – something else we got from Vatican II – in order to respond to present-day needs and the international dimension of our Charism which enables me to live in deep and rich communion with the five Vocations. As a diocesan priest, of course, I am linked to my bishop and the priests of my diocese. But I have a very strong fraternal bond with the international group of Priest Associates and I thank God for that. I had the joy of making my commitment in Martillac in October 2007 during the meeting of Priest Associates. Fr. Bernard from Lesotho made his commitment at the same time.
In this year of the Bicentenary of the foundation of our Family, I am happy to share the journey that led me to make this commitment and to be happy living my vocation in the Holy Family of Bordeaux. I would like to thank especially the Apostolic Sisters because it is usually they who awaken the Priest Associate Vocation around the world. Some years ago, a French bishop said quite rightly, “To call is to liberate”. Blessed be the Lord who has called us all to be part of the beautiful Family of the Children of God.
Jean-Louis Despeaux, Holy Family Priest Associate
of the Diocese of Bordeaux