The Integral Priest
This is Bishop Tissier’s first article for The Angelus about Archbishop Lefebvre, his life, his person, his work, and his doctrine.
Marcel Lefebvre’s love and devotion to the holy sacrifice of the Mass as a boy was owing to the example of a good priest, the Abbé Louis de Marchelier, his professor at Sacred Heart College. During the first World War, when he was twelve, Marcel served Mass for this priest every day despite the curfew and the risk of encountering German soldiers on the street.
Choice of Vocation
During his last year at school when he was seventeen, Marcel took to heart the exhortation of Father Deconinck warning the class, “During these holidays, you will have to make a decision about your future!” But the priesthood, which Marcel was considering, is something so great, so high! Following the advice of his younger sister Christiane—a future Carmelite—he made a retreat with Benedictines and then consulted a Trappist, Father Alphonse, in Belgium. As soon as he met the boy, he told him “You will be a priest!”
A seminarian at Rome, Via Santa Chiara (1923-1930), Marcel was mobilized by the rector, Fr. Henri Le Floch, in a crusade: “Fr. Le Floch made us enter into and live the history of the Church, showing us the influence of the priesthood and the popes in the social reign of Christ.”
His spiritual director, Father Marc Voegtli, enthused the seminarians by “the integrity of the priesthood,” that is to say, “the priest’s sacrifice for the reign of Jesus Christ,” His reign in souls and also in the City (civil society, or the State). “You will preach the name of Jesus Christ with your whole heart.”
The young priest Marcel Lefebvre (1929) stood resolved to “lead all things back to Christ, to synthesize all things in Christ.” “All my life,” he was to say, “I worked to build up Catholic societies.”
Educator of African Priests
Having become a missionary to Gabon, he was named professor and then rector of the seminary, despite his disinclination. There “he showed from the outset a particular competence and taste for the formation of priests.” He was “firm, moderate, considerate in his judgments and decisions, well loved by his students and appreciated by the Fathers.” He was “remarkable at organizing and arranging practical matters.”
The missionary life of a priest is composed of a special blending of the spiritual and the material, of union with God and practical matters. Marcel Lefebvre excelled at this union, endowed as he was with solid judgment and a practical love of order in all things.
A Providential Formation
God was preparing Marcel Lefebvre for his future task. He was a complete, balanced priest whose motto could be phrased: “The grace of the Holy Spirit is almighty, but it needs a bit of organization” (by the one who puts it to use).
Gradually, without his having any premonition, Marcel Lefebvre was being disposed by God for his future work of safeguarding the priesthood, not only its doctrine and validity, but also its spirit and its “integrity,” as Father Voegtli would say.
In the Bush, a Burgeoning Christendom
After six years of teaching, Marcel was sent into “the bush” by Msgr. Tardy, to his delight. There, in contact with the natives, in his visits by pirogue to remote villages and schools in the bush, he deployed his sacerdotal zeal to the fullest. For him it was not a question of dialoguing, but of evangelizing, of converting, baptizing, and sanctifying these simple souls and making their rough but docile hearts better.
His objective was to create true Christian families, and this isn’t easy to do in a place where polygamy is common practice. And then true Christian villages come next, a burgeoning Christendom which, tomorrow, will form the elite of the country.
A Catholic Elite
Gabon, still in large part pagan but undergoing a thorough Christianization, obtained independence in 1960. The first president of the republic will be the practising Catholic Leo Mba, a graduate of the Holy Ghost Fathers’ schools. One of its ministers, Valentin Obama, was a former pupil of Fr. Marcel Lefebvre at the school in Donguila; in 1986, he effectively supported the foundation of St. Pius X’s Mission by the Society of St. Pius X.
Behold the excellent social and political fruits of “the integrity of the priesthood.”