Pierre Bienvenu Noailles – the Founder
“If God’s works are to be solid,
they must be founded on God alone.”
From his seminary days, Fr. Noailles carried in his heart a project he had received from God. He had conceived the plan of a vast Association in which different states of life and the different vocations in the church could all be included. Bishop d’Aviau of Bordeaux had no doubt of the authenticity of the call: “It is no ordinary work you are about to begin. Your plan is that of a vast Institute. No matter, go ahead.”
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. He 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. Among them was his sister, Catherine Aimée Noailles. She had been thinking of being a Carmelite but finally decided to offer herself for her brother’s work.
From that time on Fr. Noailles, conscious of being the depositary of a treasure from God for the church and the world, was in a position to transmit his experience. He became effectively a Founder.
These first religious were invited to take the Holy Family for models, to spread among themselves and around them that charity that marked the relationships of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and to love God with the same faithful love. Nowhere on earth was God loved as perfectly as in the Holy Family of Nazareth.
God does not abandon the orphan
Painting by Léon Bonnat, 1833-1922
French painter and art collector .
Preserved in the Holy Family Community
at Martillac, France
The beginnings of a religious family are always marked by heroic poverty, total abandonment to God’s providence and the freshness of the gospel. It was like this with the Holy Family.
Quite soon, however, the early enthusiasm gave way to days of doubt when resources were scarce. Hope was reborn when, in spite of near destitution, they opened their arms to a little abandoned orphan girl brought to them by Fr. Noailles.
“God does not abandon the orphan nor those who come to their aid.”
This child for whom they took the place of a mother reminded them of the child of Bethlehem. In her frailty she obliged them to rely on God in utter trust and dependence. Other orphans would come and soon the first ministry dedicated to the care of orphans was born.
A blessing from God
The monstrance of the Miraculous Benediction
preserved in the contemplative community of
La Solitude, Martillac (France)
Another event was to contribute considerably to reviving confidence in the enterprise. Eighteen months after the foundation, the Lord gave a wonderful sign of his presence. He showed himself to the whole congregation gathered to pray with the community during benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
“Those present saw for twenty minutes the head and upper part of the body of a young man which had appeared in the monstrance in place of the host. His face was strikingly beautiful and, with the utmost graciousness, he blessed the congregation which remained recollected and composed.
One of the sisters kept her head bowed and did not look at the host but her whole being was absorbed by words she heard in the silence of her heart:
‘I am the One who is and there is no other.’
Bishop d’Aviau authenticated the event after a most careful enquiry. It would not be possible ever to plumb the depths of such a favour but its immediate effect was to encourage the young community to go forward with confidence. In fact, during the months that followed the work increased and the little group of foundresses was joined by others so that Fr. Noailles asked his bishop to release him from his parish ministry in Saint Eulalie so that he could devote himself entirely to the new foundation.
“Do not forget the things which you yourselves have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live; teach them, rather, to your children and to your children’s children.” Deuteronomy 4, 6