On 25 September 1896 Joyce was appointed prefect of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Belvedere College.
The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary was an association of students who were dedicated to showing special honour to the Virgin Mary. The sodality was overseen by a director, one of the Jesuit priests at the College, but the positions of prefect and assistant prefect were filled by election from the members of the sodality. Election to those positions was a considerable honour.
Joyce would have been familiar with sodalities from his time at Clongowes Wood, and it’s likely that he had already been a member of the junior Sodality of the Holy Angels before he joined the senior Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary in December 1895. According to an article in the College magazine, the Belvederian, ‘The very existence of such an association is a perpetual incentive to piety. Its members are the leading boys, whose position in the house causes them, in some degree, to be looked up to by the younger pupils of the school.’
The Sodality had its meetings in Belvedere College on Saturday mornings at 9. The director would choose a passage for the prefect to read from a spiritual book, or from the rules or history of the sodality. The prefect would then lead the boys in reciting Matins or Lauds from the Little Office of Our Lady. At 9.30 they attended mass in the college chapel.
Joyce, who was only fourteen and a half at the time, and assistant prefect Albrecht Connolly, were elected by the other members of the sodality and, according to Fr Bruce Bradley, this made them ‘virtual heads of the school,’ representatives of the student body. They would approach the rector of the College on matters of importance to the students, such as getting a free day or getting a student who was in trouble off.
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus is also elected prefect of the Sodality, despite his visits to the ‘nighttown’ district of the city:
On the wall of his bedroom hung an illuminated scroll, the certificate of his prefecture in the college of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On Saturday mornings when the sodality met in the chapel to recite the little office his place was a cushioned kneeling-desk at the right of the altar from which he led his wing of boys through the responses. The falsehood of his position did not pain him. If at moments he felt an impulse to rise from his post of honour and, confessing before them all his unworthiness, to leave the chapel, a glance at their faces restrained him. The imagery of the psalms of prophecy soothed his barren pride. The glories of Mary held his soul captive: spikenard and myrrh and frankincense, symbolizing her royal lineage, her emblems, the late-flowering plant and late-blossoming tree, symbolizing the age-long gradual growth of her cultus among men. When it fell to him to read the lesson towards the close of the office he read it in a veiled voice, lulling his conscience to its music.
Sources & Further Reading:
Bradley, Bruce: James Joyce’s Schooldays, with a Foreword by Richard Ellmann, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1982.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Seamus Deane, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.