Pierre Bienvenu Noailles

Who was Pierre Bienvenu Noailles? (pronounced 'no-i')

Pierre was an enthusiastic young priest of Bordeaux who, at the age of 26, founded the Association of the Holy Family.
          Although baptised on the day of his birth, 27 October 1793, in the Cathedral of St. André, Bordeaux, he was twenty years old when he made his First Communion. Why was he so late in coming to the Sacrament of the Eucharist? Some facts concerning his childhood and adolescence may enlighten us:
          He was born at the height of the French Revolution, October 27, 1793. Life in Bordeaux was grim. The thriving family business had been ruined, and the family was forced to live in somewhat difficult circumstances. Because of this reversal of fortune, Pierre spent some time with foster parents. It was they who taught him his first prayers. As an adolescent, Pierre began working with a lawyer. During his time of apprenticeship, he had the opportunity to study the writings of Rousseau, Voltaire and others who were popular at that time. These had a major influence on his thinking and attitude to religion. He was totally involved in 'worldly' pursuits, so much so that his mother was deeply concerned about him. Realising that her husband's indifference to religious practice was also partly responsible for Pierre's waywardness, Madame Noailles said to him, "Your son is dead, but you can bring him back to life." From that day, his father returned to the Church and Pierre embraced its way of life.
          On the eve of his First Communion, as he prayed before a statue of Mary in the chapel of Mount Carmel in the Cathedral, Bordeaux, Pierre had a profound religious experience, that was to mark the rest of his life. Two years later, 13 October 1816, to the surprise of his friends, he entered the seminary of St. Sulpice, Paris, to study for the priesthood.
          After his ordination, 5 June 1819,Fr Noailles was appointed to the parish of St. Eulalie, Bordeaux. In his ministry, the poor always had a privileged place. He shared with them the small amount which he received. He learned poverty from the contemplation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, that Family which he referred to as "poor in the eyes of the world, rich in the treasures of heaven." His own spirit of poverty was truly remarkable. He himself was satisfied with what was strictly necessary for life.

          Long before Vatican II, Fr Noailles recognised the irreplaceable role of lay people in evangelisation. To this end he began by organising special classes in adult catechesis. However, while he regarded it as essential to have an educated lay people, he emphasised that knowledge alone was not sufficient:

          "It is not from books
          that one learns the preacher's art;
          it is at the foot of the Cross;
          it is in the depths of one's own heart.
          To love Our Saviour Jesus
          is to know enough to teach others to love him." (P.B.N.)

          Those who attended the classes were referred to as 'associates'.
They helped him in his pastoral ministry and were given a special rule of life, based on the
spirituality of the Holy Family of Nazareth. From these adult catechesis classes came the first three members of the Religious section of the Association.

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