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Home WHO WE ARE Assumptionists Profiles Rev. GERVAIS QUENARD, A.A. (1875-1961)

Rev. GERVAIS QUENARD, A.A. (1875-1961)


First assignments in the Near East

Born in Chignin, next to Montmélian (Savoie), France, on January 11, 1875, Jean-Claude Quénard, after grammar school, already became somewhat of a founder by participating in the foundation of the alumnate in Miribel-les-Echelles (Isère) in 1887. After finishing his secondary education in Brian (Drôme) from 1890 to 1892, he received the Assumptionist habit on August 7, 1892 at the novitiate in Livry (Seine-Saint-Denis) with the name of Brother Gervais. Annually professed August 7, 1893, he finished his novitiate in Phanaraki, Turkey, where he made final profession August 15, 1894, and where he studied philosophy (1894-1896). He studied theology in Jerusalem (1896-1900) where he was ordained a priest August 20, 1899 by Latin Patriarch Luigi Piavi.

Appointed professor of Holy Scripture in Jerusalem (1900-04), he collaborated with Le Guide de la Palestine / Guide to Palestine before being assigned to the publications of La Bonne Presse (1904-05) where he felt uncomfortable. Father Emmanuel Bailly appointed him to Russia along with four confreres. Father Gervais began his activity in Vilnius (1905-08). In 1908, he was appointed teacher at Saint Augustine College in Philippopolis, Bulgaria, where he quickly became its superior. However, in 1915, the leaders responsible for the politico-military alliances in Bulgaria invoked the king’s friendship with the religious as grounds for their expulsion. Father Gervais found refuge in Romania (1915-19). After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, he pleaded without ill-feelings the cause of Bulgaria and returned to Philippopolis (1919-20) where he was appointed Superior of the Near Eastern Mission (1920-23).

Assumptionist Superior General 1923-52

In 1923, the Holy See took it upon itself to appoint Father Gervais Superior General, thereby bringing to an end the transitional years of Father Joseph Maubon as Vicar General and the provisional character of the Assumptionist Constitutions. Appointed at age 48, renewed twice by election, in 1929 and 1946 for two terms of 12 years, Father Gervais was able to transmit to the Congregation, reunited after the 1918-1922 crisis, the enthusiasm of his own youth. He, as well as the members of the Curia, needed all the energy and moral strength they could muster to recreate unity, to regroup in France the elderly religious who had been living alone, and to impose new directions and new leaders: Father Merklen at La Croix and Father Protin in Bordeaux.

The Congregation was reorganized according to the Roman directives into 4 provinces: 3 in France and 1 in Belgium-Holland. In 1924, Father Gervais had La Bonne Presse recognized as a civil corporation in order to reassume the work that Paul Féron-Vrau had administered since 1900. In 1932, he did not hesitate to support La Croix’s new orientation whereby it broke with its former positions and adopted those proposed by Pius XI: condemnation of nationalism and encouragement of movements known as Catholic Action. He reunited the two branches of the Oblate Sisters in Paris and Nîmes (1926); he dressed the wounds inflicted by World War I; and he adapted the structures of the Institute to accommodate its rapid expansion. In 1935, the 4 provinces, numbering 1,036 religious living in 102 communities, made room for 3 vice-provinces that became autonomous provinces in 1946: Holland, England, and North America. That same year, the Congregation counted 1,596 religious living in 125 communities in 23 countries.

REV. GERVAIS QUENARD, A.A. (1875-1961)Father Gervais led the Near Eastern Mission through a difficult transition, redirecting the Congregation toward new countries: the Congo in Africa (1929), and Manchuria in Asia (1935). The Near Eastern Mission redeployed around the Mediterranean basin and in Central Europe. In 1923-24, the Assumptionists accepted to found communities serving the Greek-Catholic Church in Transylvania (Romania); in 1925, Father Bélard went to Belgrade, Yugoslavia; in 1934, the Congregation went to Greece and Tunisia. Father Gervais undertook long and tiring trips to visit all the Assumptionist communities wherever they were, exhibiting toward the women’s congregations great respect for their autonomy and support for their development. In 1931, he repurchased the house where Father d’Alzon was born in Le Vigan (Gard), entrusting it to the Orants in 1937.

This new map of the Congregation had barely been drawn up when World War II put in question and weakened these new foundations: the East came under Communist political domination in 1945; the communities in Manchuria, Romania, and Bulgaria were subsequently dispersed; and 3 religious were executed following a sham trial in Sofia (1952). During the war years, the members of the Curia, having had to flee from Rome, took up residence in France, some in the North (Chaville), others in the South (Lyons). The average age of the religious rose. However, as death took its toll, the old-timers progressively lost most of their influence.

A General Chapter could not be called until 1946. Though Father Gervais clearly merited the renewed confidence he was given, the Congregation did not have the wherewithal to imagine a new strategy. In 1950, Father Gervais was delighted to witness the proclamation of Mary’s Assumption. That same year, the Dutch province found a way to serve the Near Eastern Mission in Lebanon. In Rome, Father Gervais, who was well-known among the members of the hierarchy, spearheaded the review Unitas with Father C. Boyer, S.J., and was the inspiration behind what later became the Union of Major Superiors in Rome.

At the end of 1951, Father Gervais, now elderly and tired, announced his intention to resign from his post. Having become a venerable patriarch, he continued to reside in Rome. He who, in 1929, had proceeded to transfer the residence of the Curia from the ancient Filippani palace at Ara Caeli - razed because of Mussolini’s city planning - to the new building at Tor di Nona on the banks of the Tiber, now adapted himself to a new residence on Via Madonna del Riposo (today Via San Pio V), in the Aurelio quarter, built by his successor, Father Wilfrid Dufault (1958). Father Gervais died in Rome on February 6, 1961, age 86, shortly before the opening of Vatican Council II, which he had fully endorsed by participating as a councilor and auditor in its preparatory commissions. He is buried in Rome at Campo Verano.

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