In 1833, the Foundertogether 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.
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.
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.
After 40 Vatican II when all religious congregations were invited to return to the source of their origin. This helped the Holy Family Association to revitalize the Group of Priest Associates, at that time Sr. Marie Paul Chauvin was the Superior General and she wrote a Book on the Charism of our Founder. It was during her tenure of office as Superior General
that the Provincials and Delegation Superiors were asked to promote the vocation of Priest Associates. In Sri Lanka, in the Jaffna Province
Rev. Fr. J.B. Devarajah, was the facilitator of our Provincial Chapter in 19 and it was during this time that he became acquainted with our Charism and spirituality and also about the vocation of the Priest Associates in the Family of P.B. Noailles. This initiated him to reflect on this vocation. In 1977, it was a time of displacement in the history of the Tamil people. Our sisters moved to live among the displaced people the life of insertion in different places. Since Rev. Fr. J.B. Devarajah was responsible for the Social Economic Development in the Jaffna Diocese, he too moved to live among the people and at Keerisuddan he was living with our Sisters. As he was reflecting on the vocation of the Priest Associate, this experience helped him decide and make his commitment in 1977. Since he was the only priest available to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of our Sisters in the displaced area he was called “Good Father/Nalla Pitha”. His cordial relationship with our Sisters and the committed Priestly life was an inspiration to the Priests. The fraternal love and friendship he had with the Priests helped him to inculcate the spirit of the Holy Family.
Later Rev. Fr. J.P. Selvarajah hearing about this vocation from him and the Contemplative Sisters prepared himself and on the Silver Jubilee of his ordination made his Commitment on 03.02.1983 in the Chapel at Manipay Convent where the contemplatives were living and Sr. Assumpta Johnpillai was his accompanier in this journey. These two committed priest were very zealours in their priestly ministry and had cordial relationships with all. They participated in all the family feasts and functions and they were well informed about our life, mission and Spirit of the Holy Family and it was a great support and inspiration to their committed life as Priest Associates.
When Rev. Fr. Servatius came from India to facilitate our Provincial Chapter and Rev. Fr. Peter Fernando from India came as a preacher for our Annual Retreat (now Bishop of Mylapoor) after study and reflecting on our Charism and Spirituality of the Holy Family and coming to know about the vocation of the Priest Associate in the Family of P.B. Noailles made their commitment and the Administration Group had contact with them and helped them to deepen and progress in their committed life. Today they are the stalwarts of their Group in India.
In 1987 when the Holy Family sisters were celebrating the 125th Anniversary of their arrival in Sri Lanka, Rev. Fr. G.A.F. Joseph, expert in audio-visual, then Rector of St. Patrick’s College was helping us with the audio-visuals and cultural affairs heard about this vocation of the Priest Associates. He took a keen interest and studied the life of our Founder, the Charism and Spirituality of the Holy Family and inspired and convinced commenced his preparation and in 1987 made his commitment. Other has coming together for the Family feasts and function nothing was done for the growth of this vocation.
It was during the time of Sr. Joy and Sr. Josephine Mendis (General, General Councillor , 1993) this Group started to flourish. Sr. Rose Fernando (Colombo Province) who was in charge of the Priest associates in Colombo visited the Jaffna Priest Associates. The
experience that Rev. Fr. Devarajah and Fr. Selvarajah gained by participating in the General Assemblies kept the alive the flame of this vocation.
In 2000, the Jubilee year of the Church, a couple of sisters started taking interest in promoting this vocation. The Provincial Council encouraged Sr. Arul to take some interest in this vocation and in the Colombo Province Sr. Margaret Rose was taking great interest and promoting vocations to this group. In 03/02/2001, the Rector of St. Patrick’s College Rev. Fr. I. Bernard, made his commitment as Priest Associate.
During the Jubilee year an invitation letter was sent to all the diocesan priest informing them about this vocation in the Holy Family Association. After receiving their responses the real formation programme was started for all who had come forward to respond to this call. After two years of preparation and regular meetings and study programmes Rev. Frs. Mary Joseph, Michael and Jebaratnam made their commitment.
Now Rev. Fr. J. Nicholas is the Coordinator of the Priest Associates of Jaffna and they conduct group meetings once in two months and National meeting (South and North) once a year is stilled carried on in different places in different Diocese in Sri Lanka.
In January 2012 there are 13 committed Priest Associates and 21 in Formation.