Marcel Lefebvre, the son of the boss of a midsized business in northern France, inherits the qualities of initiative and organization from his ancestors. “He could have been director of a factory,” esteems his Vicar General of Dakar, the Swiss Fernand Bussard, “and even CEO of Nestlé without a problem.” And a Swiss knows the price of money and the use one can make of it!
Marcel will always be careful about how his subordinates use the subsidies he grants them, a practice he continued to employ, whether he was superior of a missionary station in Gabon, the Archbishop of Dakar in Senegal, or the founder of the Society of St. Pius X.
From his mother, besides his sense of order, Marcel inherits the virtue of order. He loves to set order to things and people, and to organize them to their ends, that is to say, for apostolic success. Employing the financial and human resources he has at hand, he manages the goals and final realization of his projects in a rational way, knowing how to maintain the balance among the diverse activities which money and talents afford him.
For instance, he exhorts his missionaries to “not invest everything in constructions and restorations at the expense of evangelization”: the car travels are expensive, and they must secure the payment of the catechists. “Yet, certain priests spend everything in buildings; they need everything, and then they have nothing left to start the apostolate.”1
“To inventory the means we dispose of, to organize them and put them to good use with moderation, with order, is to grant our help to the work of Providence.”2
Experience will teach Marcel Lefebvre that, if he disposes of the third of the total sum needed for a project, he may initiate the construction: Providence will follow up, so to speak. With this rule of thumb in mind, he will begin the construction of each of the three new sections of the seminary of Écône, from 1971 to 1973. For the first section, the St. Pius X building, he convokes a meeting with the architect Delaloye and the contractors, Pedroni, Porcellana, etc. “One million five hundred thousand francs” is the estimation of the architect at the end of the session. Archbishop Lefebvre thinks: “I do not even have the third. I cannot begin, I give up!” Lo and behold, he is called on the phone. His bursar is calling him from Paris: “A benefactor has just put on your account 500.000 francs.” He returns and declares to these men: “Sirs, I have what I need to start. It is fine. This is the green light from Providence!”
He loves to explain how one needs to exercise the simple virtue of prudence “in three acts”: consiliari, praecipere, perficere: think it over (and ask advice); judge and decide; execute and finish!
“Faced with a shortage of resources and with the relative inefficiency of those we have, and considering how much work there is to be done and the strength of our desire to accomplish it, it is easy to become impatient and critical of those who are supposed to be helping us, to keep letting our bitterness show, and to be constantly distraught and distressed, or else to become disillusioned, weary of making useless appeals, tired of not being obeyed by our assistants, discouraged at not producing the expected results. All this can lead one to slip into a routine existence, with all effort abandoned, and all zeal gone. This will not do! The zealous missionary well knows the difficulties he faces and the poverty of his resources. He also knows that it is Providence that has placed him on a given day, at a given hour, in the area entrusted to him. He considers, takes advice, reviews the resources available and then sets to work with what he has, never becoming dispirited or rebellious.”3
And the bishop sets clearly his principle, drawn from the Gospel: “Pastoral work requires organization comparable to that needed in commerce or industry or any other secular enterprise. Why should we use less intelligence than do worldly folk when we set about perfecting the organization of our ministry, using the resources which Providence has given us, and seeking to augment them to the extent the same Providence sees fit?”4
Wealth allows one to use modern means which the progress of science and technology place at the disposal of the missionaries and priests.
At Libreville, and later at Lambaréné, in the bush, Father Marcel mounts an electric generator, bought by French benefactors, and shipped by boat, despite the risk of being torpedoed. He prepares the faithful for this innovation by giving them a full-fledged course in physics, on electricity, and the Catholic scientists. Then he jump-starts the system: the mission and the whole town is lit. The indigenous proclaim: “Behold! Behold! Here is the man of Lambaréné who is bringing us the light!”
Marcel will also acquire a radio wave transmitter with which he will be able to receive news during the war. In Dakar, he will request that each mission station of Senegal have its own refrigerator. At the Mortain seminary of Normandy, he will install a cold room to preserve meats and vegetables.
But, when he comments on the advantages of the material progress which money gives access to, a progress which comes from Europe and its civilization—as it could come from North America and its own civilization—he affirms that the true superiority of a civilization results “less from the level of their technologies than from the power of Christian principles, the foundation of civilization.”5
Even more, he minimizes wealth and material means when he compares the activity of the Catholic missions to those of their Protestant rivals, which are often established before the Catholics ones: “Do not copy the methods of the Protestants,” he writes to his missionaries. “This would be to forget that the Holy Ghost is the soul and spring of our apostolate, and it would move us to copy the adversaries of the Church, to search for expedients, purely temporal means, to put our trust in a systematic and rational organization, to bring forward “hygienic,” “social,” or “economical” endeavors instead of placing the souls in contact with the divine source from which come all the benefits, spiritual and material, eternal and temporal.”6
And so that this use which the priest makes of his material resources be blessed by God, so, too, that the priest or the missionary may organize this use by his virtue of prudence, Archbishop Lefebvre loves to start his building meetings with a prayer. One of his Holy Ghost confreres, Fr. Charles Berclaz, testifies: “I went to see him once or twice at Écône. I had been involved in buildings in the Valais: “Saint-Amé” at St. Maurice; “Le Castel” of Martigny. So, he asked my advice when he started to build Écône. He asked to see me. I was very edified during the building meeting which I attended. I truly admired the spiritual touch, the spirituality which he was able to impart to the building meeting. He began with a prayer and a good number of the men present came more or less as free laborers.”7
In conclusion: For Archbishop Lefebvre, money is made to serve the grace of God and the apostolic zeal. It must be spent wisely, in line with an organization as perfect as that of a business or a factory. Grace is all powerful, but it needs a tiny bit of money and organization!
One day, Archbishop Lefebvre is invited to give a conference. The immense size of the room allows him to speak before a large audience. At the end, as he was leaving, he asked a question to the priest, one of his spiritual sons, who had organized the session.
“Have you thought of getting a collection? … so as to offset the rent of the room and the travel expenses of the speaker?” The priest apologizes for not having thought of it. Then, the Archbishop replies: “That is great. We wish to be supernatural! But we forget the nerve of the war!”
In fact, the Archbishop depends totally on his benefactors. Meanwhile, personally, he is penniless. Yet, his person, his office, and his private items evoke an admiration for their cleanliness and order. For him, poverty is not indigence or negligence. For his works, he solicits his benefactors, knocks at doors, begs at the Pontifical Mission Funds. It is humbling, for humility does not kill but rather elevates those who practice it.
One day in Rome, he asks for some contributions of the cashier of the Propaganda Fide and faces the bad will of the clerk. It is only by insisting that the clerk throws him, over the desk, a bundle of dollars, which fall to the ground all spread out on the floor. The Archbishop bends down to collect the bills, while saying: “Let me do it. I can take care of this.” Simplicity!
An old infirm lady sends him a monthly five-dollar check. His bursar remarks: “Excellency, would it not be better to tell her to send one lump sum every six months? Each time, I pay two dollars in commission.” The prelate replies: “No! Just think about the widow of the Gospel!” Gratitude is called tenderness.
The Archbishop loves to visit his benefactors in order to thank them. He crosses Switzerland to express his gratitude to Mrs. Elserer, who makes the famous Swiss knifes at Schwyz. He uses also a trip to California to thank Lady Kinnoull, his great American benefactress. “Extremely rich,” Mr. Joseph Lefebvre tells me. “She owned a large portion of the tobacco business in the US, and do you know that she founded a hospital for dogs, because she loved animals?”8 Thus the founder Archbishop was receiving the left-overs from the dogs: When Lady Kinnoull died, he requested prayers from the whole Society for the repose of her soul. Claude Kinnoull, had helped him considerably in the time of the Holy Ghost Fathers and for funds for the Society of St. Pius X.
Among the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Archbishop left the reputation of a prelate who knew how to spend generously. His bursars often had to “draw the tongue” as they say. Yet, the money was always coming in, although they had no idea how.
This is because Archbishop Lefebvre knew how to reconcile two apparently contrary virtues: the virtue of poverty (which is not stinginess) and the virtue of magnificence (which is not to be spendthrift).
Of his seminarians he demands the exercise of the virtue of poverty by being economical: “Moderate the heat in your cells and your personal spending, take care of the community property.” But to his priests, he gives the example of magnificence, opposed to avarice, which is the art of spending great sums for the production of great works. This virtue is the daughter of magnanimity, which wants to achieve great things, “especially those which deserve great honor,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, because they render testimony both to the greatness of soul of their author and for grand use for society, for souls, and for God’s glory.
Spending money, according to Archbishop Lefebvre, is a good and apostolic thing, as long as it is in order. He reminds his priests: “Be thrifty: Saint Joseph helps us in as much as we do not waste what the benefactors deprive themselves of for us.” However, on the other hand, “Don’t hoard your money, spend what is given you!”9 “Above all, do not make Our Lord into a liar: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all the rest will be given unto you.’ Because if you seek money, money will flee from you. Be apostolic and St. Joseph will always be generous.”10
1 Father Henri Gravand, témoignage, Aiguebelle, Nov. 20, 2000.
2 Circular Letter “Towards an ever more fruitful Apostolate,” Dakar, May 1, 1952. in Pastoral Letters, Angelus Press Kansas City, MO, 1992, p. 36.
3 Ibid. p.36-37.
4 Ibid. p. 37.
5 “The Church and Social and Political Evolution” in Ibid. p. 79.
6 “The Apostolate,” in Ibid.
7 Fr. Charles Berclaz, CSSP, interview at Bouveret, April 3, 1997.
8 Joseph Lefebvre, interview at Mousserolles, March 4 1997.
9 Fr. Jean-Yves Cottard, testimony, Marcel Lefebvre, Angelus P