Background and Early Life
Edmond Jolly, who was to become the successor to Fr René Alméras CM as the third Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, was born at Douay, France, on October 24, 1621. He studied first at the Marche College, and then completed Philosophy at Beauvais, and also Theology. He then spent some time working in the diplomatic area for the Count of Fonteney-Mareuil. This brought him into contact with the French Court and also Papal authorities. On November 13, 1646, Edmond Jolly was received in the Congregation of the Mission. Having completed his novitiate at Paris, he was ordinated a priest in Rome on May 1, 1649.
During his time in Rome, Fr Jolly negotiated with the Papal authorities on a number of matters - the vows of the Congregation of the Mission, the interpretation of the vow of poverty for the Congregation, the approval of the Daughters of Charity, and the union of the priory of Saint Lazare. He was made superior of the house at Rome in 1655, and was Visitor of the Province of Italy from 1661 to 1671. During the plague of 1656, he contracted the disease, but recovered. It was he who settled the location of the house in Rome, acquiring the Palazzo Bagni at Montecitorio. Then, when Fr René Alméras, the Superior General, became more confined to his room in the final period of his life, Jolly, recognised as decisive and energetic, was called to his side to assist him.
Jolly as Superior General
Jolly was elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission at the General Assembly held from January 2 – 26, 1673. He was then aged 52 years. In his first circular letter, he wrote that he proposed to preserve the primitive spirit of the Congregation.
To foster uniformity among the conferes of the Community, he sent two sketches to all the houses of the Congregation to illustrate for the priests and brothers an appropriate style of clothing and cut of moustache and beard ! He typified the missioners with moustache and goatee beard, skull-cap and biretta, white collar above their clothing, and a cloak. Priests would wear a long coat, brothers a short coat and no biretta. Watches were not permitted – those on missions were allowed their use however, provided they handed them in to the Bursar when they returned home. Jolly himself wore Rosary Beads attached to his cincture, but he did not impose this on others.
In his government of the Congregation, he seemed to have been inspired by the way of acting of absolute rulers of the time. With members of the Congregation, he was strict. For Superiors, he used the tactic of summoning them to Saint Lazare in the manner of obedient and submissive subjects. If anyone resisted, he did not hesitate to take strong measures with them. He would not allow missionaries of one house to visit another house of the Congregation., and if missionaries did not correct their ways he had them transferrred. He forbade the confreres to take meals in the city. When one particular missionary infringed against this, he had him undertake a part of his novitiate again!
During Jolly's time, there were a number of confreres who left the Congregation. Jolly tried to make the Congregation's Vows more difficult to dispense from, but did not meet with a lot of success in this regard.
In the area of recruitment to the Congregation, he fared much better. By the time of his death, there were novitiates at Saint Lazare, Lyons and Cahors in France, one in Rome, and two in Poland. The novitiate at Cahors, and the two in Poland, were commenced during his time as Superior General. Figures also show that during his time as Superior General, 1062 confreres ( 814 priests and 248 brothers) entered the Community, compared with 330 in the time of his predecessor René Alméras, and 622 during Vincent de Paul's lifetime.
Some Issues and Directions
Several important policy choices were made in Jolly's time. One was to continue with the work of Seminaries. 39 houses of the Congregation were set up during Jolly's periord as Superior General, and 29 of these were Seminaries. Many of these foundations were at the request of the Bishops, and Jolly had two major ground rules for such foundations – the missionaries remained under the authority of the Superior General, and there had to be satisfactory remuneration and living for the confreres. If either of these conditions were absent, the foundation was refused.
The acceptance of Royal Chaplainces and Parishes was another direction followed by the Congregation in Jolly's time. Fr René Alméras CM, the previous Superior General, had resisted, but acquiesced, in regard to taking responsibility for the Royal Parish of Fontainbleau. On account of his work before joining the Congregation of the Mission, Edmond Jolly was well known and esteemed at the French Court. He himself was unable to resist the pressures of taking on further royal chaplaincies and parishes, and accepted those of Versailles (requested during the time of Alméras), Les Invalides, Saint-Cloud, Saint Cyr, and even London. From the time of taking on Fontainebleau in Alméras' time, the Congregation was seen to link itself to the French Monarchy.
This apparent connection with the French monarchy had the advantage of the Congregation having friends in high places. It also had several disadvanages – the Congregation came to be seen as being a French Congregation with foreign attachments; it was not easy for the Congregation to remain impartial in disputes between the Louis XIV and the Pope; and finally, at the time of the French Revolution, the mob wreaked vengeance on the Congregation at Saint Lazare, the Seminary of St Firmin (the former Bons Enfants), and Versailles, seeing the confreres as strongly connected to the monarchy.
Within the community, there was the issue of nationality. Jolly had to recommend to a house in Rome that the topic of nationality should not even be discussed. Though the Congregation was not split with doctrinal differences, politically they were encouraged to be neither for the King, nor for the Pope, nor for Gallicanism, nor for Ultramontanism.
Jolly emphasised uniformity, an aspect seen especially in the General Assembly of 1685. He also encouraged.equality among the confreres, and fidelitiy to the model and image of the Congregation as set up by Vincent de Paul. He was successful in keeping the Congregation united and overcoming a number of difficulties. By the time of his death on March 26, 1697, at the age of 76, the Congregation of the Mission, unlike some other clerical Congregations in France, had solid foundations - not only in France itself, but also in Italy and Poland.
Mezzadri CM, L., Román CM, Jose-Maria, Storia della Congregazione della Missione, (Roma: CLV – Edizione Vincenziane, 1992)..
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