January 2020 Print

For the Love of the Church

Excerpt from the Life of Marcel Lefebvre

By Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais

To make a personal legacy, to single himself out, to see himself preferred to the pope…these are, according to his detractors, the desires and modus operandi of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. What are these in reality? Let us go through the stages of his life which were indeed varied and at the same time were animated by very simple considerations and impulsions.

Marcel Lefebvre’s First Desires

The desires of the young Marcel Lefebvre were before all things, very simple, he thus finished his high school studies at Tourcoing, in 1923. “It is true that I was always drawn to the altar, to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that I went to serve it every day during the war, in 1915, at the risk of my health. I left the house before the enforced curfew was lifted to be an acolyte for the dear Fr. Desmarchelier, my professor and confessor.

But the priesthood seemed extremely elevated to me; one had to be a saint to pursue it. I required the insistent words of Fr. Alphonsus, Trappist of the Abby of St. Sixtus in Belgium to aid my decision: “You, you will be a priest! You should become a priest!” And so, my father sent me to Rome, against my will, to the French seminary to study “the solid Roman doctrine, in Latin, under the gaze of the pope (Pius XI) at the Gregorian University.”

How did I become a missionary?

“Oh, it was because of my older brother, Fr. Rene Lefebvre, who convinced me to follow him to Gabon. He bombarded me with letters! “What are you still doing in France? Second vicar of Marais-de-Lomme. Look! See the bigger picture! Hurry here where we have plenty of catechumens, an army of catechists, and so few priests!” But myself? I wanted to be a simple little country priest with my little herd of sheep to take care of—a bit like the holy Cure of Ars! …But to go a bit further into virgin territory, or to navigate across the desert…I didn’t feel that I was destined for that.

But deep within myself I felt unsatisfied, even though I was otherwise perfectly happy. “Mama, I said to my mother, I will never be as happy as I am here with my parish ministry.” But in Rome, I received the principles which opened larger perspectives; the dear Frs. Le Floch and Voegli communicated to us a great desire for the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” The sacrifice of the priest for the social reign of Jesus Christ the King.”

Thus, I said to myself, my life will be much more useful in Africa, working to convert pagans to the truth of Jesus Christ and His Church.” “In Africa, I will give even more of myself.” It was this conviction which made me into a missionary and a member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. And in December of 1931, I left from Foucault at the port of Libreville, welcomed by my new bishop, Bishop Tardy, who said to me: “Ah, Fr. Lefebvre, I have just learned that you have a doctorate in philosophy and a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome! So, I am going to appoint you to be a professor in my seminary!”

Oh, how I feared teaching more than anything else! I wanted to have a direct apostolate. But I needed to obey, obey. And for six years, with only two priests, we taught all the courses of both the minor and major seminary!

Did I Enjoy the Formation of Young Africans?

Yes, indeed, by the grace of God! Who would have figured that, all of my life, I would be occupied with the formation of priests: in Gabon, in the seminary, then in the bush where one needed to discern vocations because there were those who were very good, then in Mortain in Normandy, where Bishop Le Hunsec, my superior general called me in 1945 to direct the college of philosophy of the Spiritans. There, I was really at ease, in my place, with my African experience and the good principles that I received at Santa Chiara (the French seminary in Rome). And each morning, after Mass, driving my father’s old car (who died in a concentration camp in 1944), I roamed through rural Normandy to collect butter, cheese, meat, vegetables, flour, milk…to feed those charged to me. Of course, the main goal was to inculcate the youth with the solid social doctrine of the Church. These youths who were infused with the virus of liberalism and Communism! You will remember the situation during the years of 1945–1947! But because I loved them, because I took care of their daily bread, found them blankets for their beds and glass panes to repair their windows broken by the war, well, I believed that they appreciated me. And I believe that I succeeded in passing along good principles: not my principles, oh no, but the principles of Our Lord and of the Church.

Likewise, in Dakar, I built a new seminary at Sebikotane—an oasis of greenery in the middle of the desert—and I gave my seminarians young professors, the Frs. Morvan, Fourmand and Bourdelet whom I appreciated very much and sent to Rome in order that they could study and obtain their university degrees. I often went to visit my seminary to encourage my future priests to acquire a genuine spiritual life…I hope that it wasn’t all in vain!

Afterward came the Second Vatican Council—the crisis of the priesthood. One said to the seminarians: “Take this, it’s the key to the seminary, you can leave in the evening and experience the world…” Or even, “You know, one day, you can get married; the Church will accept married priests.” That is when many families came to see me in Paris at Rue Lhomond, where I was the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers: “Your Excellency,” they said, “Look at our son. He is 18 years old and wants to become a priest. But which seminary can we send him to? It’s impossible! Do something for him!” This was between 1962–1967.

The Signs of Providence

In the beginning, I said to myself: “I will send them to Rome, to my old seminary where they surely have kept the good traditions…but I concluded that the professors and even the rector I had appointed to this charge, Fr. Barq had turned Modernist, disciples or fans of Teilhard de Chardin, of Fr. Yves Congar, of Karl Rahner, etc.: all of these evil-doers who wanted to reinterpret the Gospel in a naturalistic and evolutionary manner. At the end of six years, after several unfruitful efforts here and there, I said to myself, “Why not send them to Fribourg in Switzerland to the university run by the Dominican Fathers which is still good?”

I didn’t want to enroll them there myself so I went to see the bishop of Fribourg, Bishop Francois Charrière, a friend of mine since Senegal: “Oh, he said to me, I wouldn’t recommend my seminary, the doctrine is not solid there!” Go and visit the inter-diocesan seminary!” I went, therefore to “Salesianum” where the rector warned me, “But Excellency, there are no rules here! It isn’t a seminary; it is a house of university students!” What could I do?

Fr. Marcel Lefebvre, missionary and teacher in the Seminary in Africa.
Fr. Marcel Lefebvre, missionary and teacher in the Seminary in Africa.

It is here that my friend Professor Bernard Faÿ, a historian of Freemasonry, and condemned to forced labor during the “Liberation” because he had searched the premises of the Grand Orient of France. He escaped from the Clinic of Angers, France and from there to Switzerland and was welcomed by Gonzague de Reynold, a remarkable Swiss writer. Bernard Faÿ brought me to his home to stay with Fr. Marc Dominique Philippe, Dominican professor at the University of Fribourg, Dom Baron Karl, a Cistercian Father from Hauterive, and Mr. Braillard, Head of the department of education of the Fribourg Canton.

All these Fathers and men begged me: “Your Excellency, do something for these seminarians and for the two seminarians who accompanied me who were expelled from the French Seminary in Rome.” Fr. Phillippe on his knee, kissed my ring with effusion: “Yes, at the university your seminarians will support the professors who remain good.” I responded to him afflicted there upon the ground. “Alright, tomorrow I will return to see Bishop Charrière, and if he encourages me, that will be the providential sign that I should dive, in my retirement age, into this adventure!”

Truly, I was sluggish about it; I dragged my feet. Yet, at the same time, I felt imperiously and interiorly pushed to transmit to the future priests the heritage of Santa Chiara—the solid doctrine joined to the sanctity of the priest, the source of the sanctity of the priest.

The next day at the bishop’s residence: “Wonderful, Archbishop Lefebvre again! Very well, Your Excellency, find a house in Fribourg, put up your priestly candidates there, and they will follow the university classes!”

I found two apartments for rent at the house of Don Bosco of the Salesians and I asked the father N. to come and direct the household and that was that!

Or was it? No. Providence had something else in mind! At the last minute, this good Father whom I was counting on was a false friend: “Excellency,” he wrote to me, “I am not coming.”… “Alright,” I responded, “Don’t come!” Thus, I understood that I needed to involve myself personally down to the very foundations, and become the rector of the seminary, which I discretely named, “International Gathering of St. Pius X” and which Bishop Charrière approved with all his heart. The only thing left for me to do was to direct the rule of the seminary, inspired by the direction of Fr. Le Floch and Canon Law, and to receive the new candidates who arrived by divine Providence October 13, 1969, feast of Our Lady of Fatima, without me even realizing the coincidence.

No, I never did anything by my own initiative; I was pushed or pulled by events. It happened that I found myself there at the right time to begin an adventure—but that I didn’t dare imagine that it would succeed!

Did I accomplish God’s will for me? I was forced to believe that God blessed my correspondence to His grace. We were going to have a combat for the Faith in order to “transmit the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in its doctrinal purity and missionary charity.” I had a glimpse of this task in a sort of dream in Dakar around 1958; it is only because those seminarians compelled me so that I would give myself to this sort of “mission.” It could very well be said that God prepared me for this task for a very long time. Blessed be God for His ineffable inspirations and for the immediate support from the many benefactors that this work received, and which even visibly (the benefactors as well) were brought by Providence.

All in all, I never did anything other than to follow Providence. And for this work, it required the blessing of the Church herself. I absolutely needed the permission and canonical authorization of my diocesan bishop who was Bishop Charrière. In summary, it was the just reward which the Fribourg and Swiss faithful made for my mission in Senegal! It is the charity of God overflowing in the hearts of so many faithful Catholics and so many young ardent people who accomplished everything.

Did I save the Catholic priesthood, the Catholic Mass, and the Catholic Faith? Certain people attribute these wonderful things to me. But, you see, I am for nothing in this.

Translated from the French by Associate Editor Miss Jane Carver

Episcopal Consecrations of 1988

This is why we are doing this ceremony. Far be it from me to set myself up as pope! I am simply a bishop of the Catholic Church who is continuing to transmit Catholic doctrine. I think, and this will certainly not be too far off, that you will be able to engrave on my tombstone these words of St. Paul: “Tradidi quod et accepi—I have transmitted to you what I have received,” nothing else. I am just the postman bringing you a letter. I did not write the letter, the message, this Word of God. God Himself wrote it; Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave it to us. As for us, we just handed it down, through these dear priests here present and through all those who have chosen to resist this wave of apostasy in the Church, by keeping the eternal Faith and giving it to the faithful. We are just carriers of this good news, of this Gospel which Our Lord Jesus Christ gave to us, as well as of the means of sanctification: the Holy Mass, the true Holy Mass, the true sacraments which truly give the spiritual life.

—Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Sermon on the occasion of the Episcopal Consecrations