Priest Associates have been part of The Family of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles since its foundation. Their actual position in the Family evolved over a number of years. In 1833 the Founder, together with his brother Fr. Amand Noailles, had formed a small community of priests. When it became clear that this was not the way forward, Fr Noailles opened up the Association to all priests who wished to be part of the Family without the requirement of living a common life. In 1861, when Fr Noailles died, there were over 900 Priest Associates.
The Holy Family Priest Associates today are an international group of Diocesan Priests who, while living in obedience and availability to the local Ordinary or Bishop and united with their presbyterium, freely choose to follow the charism and spirituality of Fr Pierre Bienvenu Noailles. This is in view of living in greater depth their priestly commitment within the Association of the Holy Family and in solidarity with the other groups of the Family. They pledge themselves to be a voice for the poor and needy and are particularly concerned for the promotion of justice, peace and reconciliation.
The first inter-national gathering of Priest Associates of the Holy Family took place from 17 to 20 February 2004. It was presided over by the Superior General, Sr Margaret Muldoon. The assembly included representatives of Priest Associates from Sri Lanka, (Jaffna and Colombo), Philippines, India and South Africa. Among the early Priest Associates was St Théophane Vénard an account of whose life follows below.
Jean-Théophane Venard was born near Poitiers, France in 1829. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1852 in the Society of Foreign Missions. Shortly afterwards, he was assigned to Tonkin, Vietnam – then a very dangerous region for missionaries. Prior to his departure, it is said that our Founder, Pierre Bienvenu Noailles, had enrolled him as a Priest Associate of the Holy Family, remarking that one day Théophane would be a martyr for his faith.
On February 2, 1861 at the age of 32, Théophane was martyred for his faith and work as a missionary: it was the eve of the anniversary of the ‘Miraculous Blessing’. It is also interesting to note that he was martyred the same year that Fr Noailles died.
Jean-Théophane Venard was beatified in 1909 and canonised in 1988 – the same year that Pierre Bienvenu Noailles was declared Venerable, the first step on the path to canonisation. Théophane’s sister entered the Holy Family of Bordeaux, and took as her name in Religion, Sr Théophane. Théophané’s brother, Eusebius, was also a Priest Associate of the Holy Family. It was St. Thérese of Lisieux who was responsible for promoting devotion to Théophane: in him she found somebody who had lived her own ideal of missionary and martyr.
Another point of interest which links the Holy Family of Bordeaux with St Thérese of Lisieux: it was in the Church of St Eulalie, Bordeaux, that Thérese’s father was baptised, and it was in this parish of St Eulalie that Pierre Bienvenu Noailles began his life as a curate.