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Happy Seminary Days at Saint Sulpice

When Pierre Bienvenu Noailles presented himself at the seminary of Issy-les-Moulineaux in the suburbs of Paris it had only been re-opened for three months. It was run by the Company of Priests of Saint Sulpice founded in 1641 and whose principal work was the direction of major seminaries and the preparation of candidates for the priesthood. It enjoyed an excellent reputation. More than half the French bishops of the 18th century had been educated there.

The Major Seminary at Issy

Through its founder, James Olier, a spiritual son of Cardinal de Bérulle (1575-1629), the Company was rooted in the so-called “French School of Spirituality”.

It was suppressed during the Revolution and reconstituted after the Concordat. The Sulpicians were very conscious of their mission to ensure the continuity of the Church in France.

He was among the most fervent

At the seminary Pierre Bienvenu deepened his call, receptive to the atmosphere that was so favourable to study and prayer. The example of priests who led a common life with their students also stimulated him. He loved the simple, cordial relationships between the staff and the seminarians. Gifted with a great capacity for work, he devoted many hours to study.  He also acquired depth and simplicity of soul and an exalted idea of the priesthood he was about to embrace. He took  the call to holiness so seriously that his companions described him as one of the most fervent. He shared all he had – his room when he managed to heat it, his books, his class notes… He got rid of everything he judged to be superfluous.
Pierre Bienvenu absorbed the principles of the French School of Spirituality, developed by the Sulpician priests, while at the same time linking them to his own personal experience. At this time it is possible to see two poles appearing in his spiritual life and becoming so intrinsically linked as to make only one: seeking God alone in all things as Jesus, Mary and Joseph did so perfectly at Nazareth and in all the circumstances of their life.

Following the example of his teachers, he tried to live close to a God whose love had overwhelmed him. That was his first experience. God is the Only One. To live for God alone became a recurring theme on his lips, in his writings and in his life. In the background can be heard the words of Holy Scripture:

“Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one, the only Yahweh.
You must love Yahweh with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your strength.”  (Deuteronomy 6, 4 – 5)

He wrote to his brother, Amand, who entered the seminary in Bordeaux:
My dear brother, let us be holy seminarians
in order to be holy priests.

 Amand Noailles

Pierre Bienvenu Noailles

 He loved to contemplate God in the mystery of the Incarnation. God’s abandonment of the divine state, God’s “descent”, and subsequent vulnerability in becoming one of us and choosing to be incarnated in Jesus in a humble, human family touched him deeply. He contemplated how, in all the events of their life, it was God alone that Jesus, Mary and Joseph sought and loved above all and he felt himself in communion with their sentiments