The 9th of January is the 159 anniversary of Venerable Brother Polycarp’s death. As the first Brother in the position of Superior General of the Institute, and because of his relevance in our history and in our existence as a community, he deserves to be remembered. We can see the importance his contemporaries granted to him in the fact that after his death he was awarded the honorary title of “Second Founder of the Institute”. If those who lived with him saw him like that, who are we to deny it?
Due to this importance he had in the “golden age” of the Institute and also the tragic death of Father André Coindre, the Founder, Brother Polycarp was given such an enhancement that it eclipsed all the other people who played an important role in our beginnings, the Founder included.
The General Chapter of the year 2000, which revisited André Coindre’s fundamental intuitions, succeed in redeeming our Founder in his rightful place, as a person inspired by God to give a new charism to the Church and the world. However, we should not think that both figures “compete” with each other. On the contrary, it is wonderful to see how complementary they are. It is as if the Holy Spirit wanted to give us a single grace in two parts, like a puzzle we have to unite.
Both figures have the essentials:
- An unwavering trust in the love of Jesus, represented in the Sacred Heart. This faith was also expressed as an awareness of being in the hands of the Divine Providence, which protected them even in the most desperate situations.
- A desire to give their lives to God, without being afraid to give up their patrimony and future. The docility to God’s plans was always above any personal desire.
- Choosing the education of the children and young people in need as a concrete means to spread the Gospel and transform the reality of people. The Kingdom of God was not something theoretical for them: they committed themselves to its realization on this earth.
- A decision to work in community, in Church, with others. Firstly, André was part of a society of missionary priests; then he sought the collaboration of lay people in their providences (homes for the youth) and finally he founded religious congregations. As for Polycarp, he always sought to educate in community and from the community. His main concern as Superior General was the holiness of his brothers.
- Ability to organize things. It is quite different to think of a personal work or apostolate than to think in a community one. Both André Coindre and Br. Polycarp knew about organization. This implies being able to see the big picture, anticipate things, face difficulties, inspire others and be able to make decisions –sometimes difficult decisions!
What are then the characteristics of Brother Polycarp? What can we highlight from him in order to understand his importance and his complementarity with the Founder? There are some characteristics I would like to point them out now, without pretending that this is a complete list of them:
- The vocation of teaching: Unlike the Founder, J.-H. Gondre started his career as a teacher even before entering the Institute of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. He was teacher and headmaster of the school that he himself opened in La Motte, his hometown. It is very important for us to value the vocation of teaching he had and to know more about the testimonies about it. his students emphasized the climate of understanding and confidence generated in his classes.
- A religious brother: It is neither convenient nor productive to get involved in a “struggle between vocations” within the Church. Every vocation comes from the Holy Spirit and everyone has its particular importance. That being said, we must point out that André Coindre was a diocesan priest, and he had the characteristics of that vocation. However, Polycarp is for us a much more direct model of religious brother. As a Brother of the Sacred Heart, we can highlight his awareness of his full consecration to God as well as his experience of fraternity which was recognized by all who lived with him.
- A serene presence of God: God manifests Himself to each one of us according to our needs, our personality, and according to what he expects from us. André Coindre was impetuous, he was a brilliant mind that expressed himself in a thunderous voice –his contemporary priests emphasized his vibrant sermons. The love of God was, for him, a fire that had to be spread throughout the world. On the contrary, Polycarp was a serene man, he liked personal, slow, emotional talks. He was a man that saw the Sacred Heart as a furnace in which one has to let oneself be consumed by the love of God. André’s work was “explosive” –he did a lot in a very short time, which led to his early death. Polycarp, on the other hand, is the one who sows with patience because he believes that God will produce the fruits.
Finally, I would like to say one more reflection. Perhaps the most incredible thing about these two great men is that they did not meet each other. Brother Polycarp entered the Institute after the death of the Founder, and so he could never be captivated by his words and personality. However, The Holy Spirit aroustimulated in him the desire to be faithful to the work of André Coindre and to keep it alive, even in the most difficult circumstances. Polycarp was the one who gathered the texts of the Founder that we can read now, and he was who wrote the first rules that gave a definitive shape to the identity he has inherited.
God manifests Himself when and how He wants, and he often use instruments that, in appearance, are less suitable for the most difficult tasks. In our case He gave us many people who have been a sign and instrument of His love, and among them these different yet complementary two people that allow us to better understand what He wants for us.
Br. Emilio Rodrigo