Fraternity of the Transfiguration
Merigny, Le Bois, France
The Fraternity of the Transfiguration is not widely known outside its native soil, yet by its finality and spirituality, it is no less international in scope than the Society of Saint Pius X. While being rooted in western France, that most Catholic part of France evangelized by St. Martin in the fourth century and by St. Louis de Montfort in the 18th, the members aspire to hasten by their prayers and sacrifices the reunion with Rome of all the Churches that once unhappily broke away from the one Church of Christ.
A closer look brings to light even more points of similarity with the SSPX: Its founder resisted the Vatican II innovations from the outset and incurred the displeasure of his superiors for it; seeking to remain faithful to the tradition he received in his seminary formation, he began with diocesan approval a foundation with a group of young men in October of 1970, the same year in which the SSPX was canonically erected; he suffered opposition from the French hierarchy, and ultimately was expelled from his parish. In summary, one might say that just as the work of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X was the providential culmination of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's life, so also the Fraternity of the Transfiguration is inseparable from the life of its founder, the Abbé Bernard Lecareux, the Curé of Merigny.
Fr. Lecareux was born in Brittany to a family of seafarers; he was the last of six children. The family later relocated to Paris. After a happy childhood and completing his baccalaureate, he undertook professional studies and worked for a while as an illustrator in the air-naval industry, and completed two years of military service in Germany. His vocation making itself known, he entered the seminary on October 15, 1956. He attended the Major Seminary of Issy-les-Moulineaux, not far from Paris, and was ordained priest by Cardinal Feltin on June 29, 1963, just as Pope John's Council was getting up to speed. Remarkably, though Fr. Lecareux's seminary studies took place on the eve of the revolution in the Church when the ferment of subversion had been at work in seminaries for decades, the Major Seminary he attended was relatively untouched by the undercurrents at work, and he received a traditional formation. The seminarians were almost completely unaware of the debates swirling round them. The only sign that perturbed the seminary was the authorization received in 1962 to wear a clerical suit in place of the cassock.
After his ordination, the young Fr. Lecareux was named vicar of Suresnes, a Parisian suburb. The parish was under the direction of the French Mission of Puteaux. The conciliar changes were already affecting parish life, and the young Levite quickly found himself in conflict with a part of the diocesan clergy, for he was the only one to refuse the novelties and soon stood out as the last priest in the diocese to continue wearing the cassock. When the diocese was divided in two, Fr. Lecareux found himself in the new diocese of Nanterre under a progressive bishop. Continuing firm in the faith, Fr. Lecareux explained his position from the pulpit by appropriating the statement of St. Francis de Sales's father: "I will never believe in a religion that is younger than I am."
Since Fr. Lecareux remained the proverbial thorn in their sides, he was marginalized and given charge of scouting, old-fashioned devotional groups, and altar servers. His group of altar servers, which numbered 25 at the outset, dropped to a mere 5 when Communion in the hand was introduced. Noticing the isolated young priest's resistance to the first Tuesday of the month brainwashing sessions organized by the Dominicans, the religious of St. Vincent de Paul told him about the Opus Sacerdotale that had been organized in 1964 at the instigation of Canon Catta, a professor at the Catholic Faculty of Angers. Placed under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the organization drew priests attached to tradition who anticipated the great crisis to come. A Fr. Lefèvre, founder of La Pensée Catholique and the publishing company Editions du Cèdre, was the driving force behind the organization, which took for its motto: Doctrina, Fortitudo, Pietas. It was through this group that Fr. Lecareux became familiar with the work of resistance to "the Spirit of the Council," a resistance he had been practising, by the grace of God, alone.
Fr. Lecareux's solitude would soon end. As the difficulties in the parish increased, with the advice and consent of his spiritual director, who had personally known Msgr. Ghika, a Moldavian prince by birth whose spirituality would be their inspiration, Fr. Lecareux conceived the idea of a religious community organized along the lines of the community Msgr. Ghika had founded in the 1920's in France before his return to Romania, where his life ended in a Communist concentration camp. The project pleased the diocese, providing as it did a convenient way of dealing with a refractory priest. With the agreement of the Archbishop of Bruges, Msgr. Vignancour, and with that of the Reverend Fr. Roy, Abbot of Fontgombault, the Fraternity of the Transfiguration was to be situated in the shadow of the walls of the Benedictine abbey. The new community, at the time comprising four members, would minister to the parishes which the abbey, according to its statutes, had to serve. Providence, however, intervened. The sudden demise of the pastor of the parish of Merigny (located 33 miles east of Poitiers) upset the plans: to Merigny the young community would go, and on October 4, 1970, Fr. Lecareux became the Curé of Merigny, Fontgombault, and Sauzelles.
The years that followed put the foundation to the test, but the fidelity of Fr. Lecareux was rewarded by divine blessings. The hardships of the first years drove away the three young members of the Fraternity, leaving Fr. Lecareux alone with the aid of two nuns who had accompanied him from their former diocese. When he first arrived at Merigny, only seven parishioners attended Mass regularly. But Fr. Lecareux was not one to yield to discouragement. Like Archbishop Lefebvre in his diocese of Tulle, he began the work of a true pastor, visiting the parishioners, exhorting them, visiting the sick, assuring the dignity of the Mass which was offered in the traditional Latin rite, and the celebration of the great feasts. Word got out that at Merigny the true Faith was being kept, and soon the parish church was full on Sundays and holydays.
The Fraternity of the Transfiguration thus took root and grew amidst many difficulties, but also with the help of many friends and collaborators. Finally, young men who had known Fr. Lecareux through scouting in his old parish of Suresnes came to join him in religious life. The first reception of the habit took place in 1976, the famous year of the "hot summer" when the traditional movement was galvanized by Archbishop Lefebvre's Mass at Lille. The Chancery let it be known to Fr. Lecareux that they were not pleased. Three years later the first two religious were ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre on June 29, 1979. The diocesan displeasure passed to action: eventually the Chancery got the civil authorities to expel Fr. Lecareux from his cure, and on November 1, 1990, Fr. Lecareux deposed the insignia of his office and turned over to the subprefect the keys to the sanctuary and the parish registers of Merigny.
But the story did not end there. Over the years, the attachment of the faithful to the priests of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration had grown as they provided Mass in several locations in the region between Poitiers and Merigny. A farm called Le Bois [say: le-bwa´], on the outskirts of Merigny [say: mare-ri-gnee´], had been transformed into a suitable domicile for the community, and when the expulsion from Merigny came, like the faithful of Campos, Brazil, who followed Bishop de Castro Mayer out of their diocesan churches, the faithful of the parish followed their curé to Le Bois. Fr. Lecareux remained for them "le Curé de Mérigny," and the Fraternity of the Transfiguration continued to shepherd the faithful that had recourse to them throughout western France. In 1995, the direction of the Fraternity was turned over to Fr. Jean-Noël, one of the first vocations to the Fraternity. In 2002, the Fraternity was forced to give up its care of diocesan parish churches, but its activity remains unhindered. Today numbering 14 members (9 priests and 5 Brothers), the Fraternity exercises a ministry analogous to that of the SSPX, which, in addition to Our Lady of the Rosary Church at Le Bois, presently serves six Mass centers in western France. In 2003, the novitiate was separated from the motherhouse at Le Bois and established at Assais.
The Spirituality of Thabor
The distinguishing religious characteristic of the semi-contemplative Fraternity of the Transfiguration is its inheritance of the spirituality and work of Msgr. Vladimir Ghika (1873-1954), a Moldavian prince born into the Orthodox Church who, after moving to France and studying at Paris, was received into the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 30. He was ordained at the age of 50 by the Cardinal-Archbishop of Paris, Msgr. Dubois, in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Lazarist Fathers.
In 1927, Msgr. Ghika founded at Auberive (in the diocese of Langres, 190 miles south-east of Paris) a small community whose life was to be characterized by the presence of the Apostle St. John, the witness of the Heart of Jesus; solicitude for Christian unity; Thabor; and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the sacrament of unity par excellence. After a life full of apostolic labor and good works, Msgr. Ghika died, a martyr for the faith and unity, on May 17, 1954, in a Communist prison.
Divine Providence did not allow Msgr. Ghika's community to endure, but the memory and teaching of the Prince inspired his disciples in France long after his death in the Romanian gulag. Encouraged by one of these disciples, Fr. Lecareux founded the Fraternity of the Transfiguration in the spirit of Msgr. Ghika's work, which was characterized by: 1) a life of prayer and adoration; 2) the quest for true Christian unity by the return to the one sheepfold, the holy Roman Catholic Church, of those who have unfortunately broken away, "ut unum sint" (Jn. 17:21); and 3) missionary zeal for this work of unity in the truth received from the Church and in charity, according to the word of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: "Veritatem autem facientes in caritate–doing the truth in charity" (Eph. 4:15).
The "spirituality of Thabor" signifies ascent towards God and a plan of Christian life directed to getting there: participants in the mystery of the Incarnation, we reach contemplation of the Trinity by the intermediary of the Paschal mystery, the redemptive sacrifice offered for the redemption of all men. The Fraternity of the Transfiguration's motto, "Adorare, Unire, Servire," sums up this way of life.
Desiring to remain faithful to the constant Tradition of the Church's two millennia and attached to the Roman See, the Fraternity places itself in the wake of the Society of Saint Pius X to keep the Faith and to work for the extension of the reign of Christ the King. Its candidates to the priesthood receive the sacrament of Holy Orders at Ecône.
The Fraternity comprises two branches, one masculine, including priests and Brothers, and one feminine (see below). In 2003, a separate novitiate for the masculine branch, under the patronage of Our Lady of the Angels, was established at Assais, while the Sisters' convent is located in the town of Merigny. There is also a Third Order, whose members are known as "familiars," who communicate around them the spirit of unity that characterizes the Fraternity.
"To begin to perceive God, one must have lost sight of self."–Msgr. Ghika
The goal of the religious life is personal sanctification by the practice of the Christian virtues and the evangelical counsels. The Fraternity of the Transfiguration's first end is the praise of God. Holy Mass is celebrated according to the Tridentine rite. Every day, the offices of Prime, Sext, and Compline are recited in common, as is the Rosary. Each member makes a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and recites Vespers privately. Additionally, every Friday the community gathers for a holy hour, and for sung Vespers and exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
"O God, who settest straight what has gone astray, and gatherest together what is scattered, and keepest what Thou hast gathered together: we beseech Thee in Thy mercy to pour down on Christian people the grace of union with Thee, that putting disunion aside and joining themselves to the true Shepherd of Thy Church, they may be able to render Thee worthy service."–Collect of the Mass for the Unity of the Church
The principal work of the Fraternity is prayer for the return to unity with Rome of the Christians who are separated from it. To this end, each member offers his life, his prayer, his sacrifices, his labor–all that makes up the warp and woof of his days–for the realization of Christ's prayer "ut unum sint."
Doctrinal and liturgical formation are approached with this end in mind: philosophical, patristic, and theological studies are in accordance with the constant Tradition of the Church, based on Thomist philosophy. Pope Pius XI's Encyclical Mortalium Animos serves as their rule of thought and conduct so that they avoid the false ecumenism condemned by the Pope. As may be inferred, in the spirit of Msgr. Ghika, the Greek Fathers are accorded a greater place in priestly formation there than elsewhere. Special attention is also given to the study of the icon. This essential element of the expression of faith in the East is studied in its technique and theology. The Fraternity seeks to foster an authentic veneration of these sacred images, "windows open upon the invisible."
Every day during holy Mass, the priests of the Fraternity recite the prayers of the Mass for the Unity of the Church (the votive Mass "Ad tollendum schisma"), and the entire community recites the "Prayer for Union" [see sidebar] composed by the Rev. Fr. Vallet (a priest well known to the SSPX as the originator of the five-day Ignatian retreat for the laity). Moreover, every year, their customary pilgrimage to the Holy Land helps the Fraternity maintain its ties with friendly Eastern Rite communities. Their monthly bulletin, Le Simandre (named after the special gong used to summon the monks to prayer in Eastern Rite monasteries), publishes news on the persecutions of Christians taking place throughout the world today, and strives to make known the world of the Oriental Churches.
The missionary spirit of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration is manifested by their desire to spread the gospel to humble folk (especially in rural areas), and the care of marginalized or abandoned people.
In addition to Our Lady of the Rosary Church at Merigny–Le Bois, the community also assures the pastoral ministry of six other Mass centers in the region east of Poitiers. Ministry to children takes the form of catechism, religious instruction at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and La Peyratte, the Wednesday afternoon youth group, and the chaplaincy of the St. John Bosco Scout Troop.
To develop the spiritual life of the faithful, the priests offer retreats for men and women, for married couples, and days of recollection for engaged couples. The Community also offers sessions on Gregorian chant and bookbinding and repair held in its guest house.
While the Fraternity of the Transfiguration carries on its apostolic work in a manner analogous to that of the Society of Saint Pius X, it differs from the Society in that all of its members are bound by the vows of religion. (The SSPX is a "pious union" whose priest-members do not make the three vows of the religious life proper, though the Brothers do.) Thus the life of the members of the Transfiguration takes on a somewhat monastic aspect, with all the members, even the priests, participating in the chores of administration and manual labor along side the Brothers. All put their talents to good use: one of the Fathers is an architect and artist of some local renown, another takes care of the accounting side of the house, while yet another keeps bees and gathers honey and makes beeswax candles. The Brothers, while aiding with the material aspect of life, also participate in the apostolate: one directs the choir and another is scoutmaster of the St. Martin's Scout Patrol.
Young men interested in joining the Fraternity of the Transfiguration become postulants for six months to a year. If their vocation seems genuine, they enter upon a novitiate of a year, after which they make their first vows. The superiors assess each individual to discern whether, in addition to being a religious, he has the requisite dispositions for the priesthood and should undertake the special studies required for ordination. Currently, their are three priests and two Brothers at the Assais novitiate.
Thirty years have elapsed since the first vows taken by members of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration, and the sapling has become a sturdy tree planted in the Lord's vineyard. Young men interested in the ideals and life of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration are invited to write (even in English).
For information about male religious:
Reverend Father Superior
Le Bois, Merigny
F-36220 Tournon St. Martin, France
Telephone:  (2) 54.37.40.04; Fax:  (2) 18.104.22.168
The Sisters of the Fraternity
of the Transfiguration
The inspiration, ideals, and life of the Sisters of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration so closely follow those of the masculine branch that a presentation of their community is included here. Like the Oblates of the SSPX, they are active collaborators in the apostolate of the priests and Brothers of the Fraternity.
The Sisters form a semi-contemplative community of religious life with simple vows. Part of their life consists in consecrating themselves to the service of God alone, with meditation, psalmody of the Divine Office, and spiritual reading; the active part consists in the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy undertaken: teaching catechism classes, holding the Wednesday afternoon youth group sessions, running summer camp and a sewing workshop, visiting the sick and elderly of the parishes, and taking care of guests.
The first Sisters entered the Fraternity in 1985 and were lodged in the Fraternity's guest house. When the fledgling community had five members, a house situated in the town of Merigny was purchased. Their move to their convent was completed at the beginning of 1992.
The feminine branch of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration follows the same rules and daily schedule as the masculine branch. They have their own chapel, and the priests of the Fraternity take turns filling the chaplaincy, offering Mass and teaching classes in chant, Christian doctrine, the religious life, sacred Scripture, and liturgy. The Sisters join the Fraternity at Le Bois for the Friday Holy Hour and for Sunday Mass and Vespers. The annual retreat takes place the week before the congregation's feast day on August 6th, the Feast of the Transfiguration.
A Sister of the Fraternity of the Transfiguration has a year of postulancy at the conclusion of which she receives the habit and the novice's veil. The novitiate lasts a year, after which she makes her first temporary vows, which are renewed yearly. At the end of five years, the Sister pronounces her perpetual vows. The community now has eight Sisters, one novice, and one postulant.
The Sisters are not strictly cloistered like Carmelites or Benedictines, and thus may receive an occasional visit from family members outside the cloister. Cultural outings are organized three or four times a year.
Young ladies desirous of the religious life and who share the congregation's missionary zeal for the return of the lost Christians to the unity of the one, holy, Roman Catholic Church, are invited to write.
For information about the Sisters:
Reverend Mother Superior
Maison des Soeurs
11, Place de l'Église
F-36220 Merigny, France
Telephone:  (2) 22.214.171.124