Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
A short biography By Father Ramon Angles
Dear Friends of the Society of St. Pius X:
Archbishop Lefebvre is gone to receive his well-deserved crown in heaven. In the early hours of Monday morning, March 25, he died quietly in the hospital of Martigny, in the Canton of the Valais near Econe in Switzerland, comforted with the last Sacraments.
There are no words to express my homage and filial gratitude to this giant figure of the twentieth century. Having had the joy and privilege of receiving the priesthood from his holy hands, I feel it now a grateful duty to write for you some thoughts about his life.
I have used for this effect the many notes taken during the composition of the historical part of a booklet written under his direction in 1981 by the late Father Denis Marchal and myself. As many of you know well his biography after the foundation of the Society of Saint Pius X, I would like to concentrate on what we can call his "hidden years".
In the fluctuations of history God raises extraordinary men and women charged with a particular mission. Without them, the face of the world and the Church would not be the same today.
Even the most rabid rationalist would not deny that personalities like Saint Athanasius, Saint Bernard, Saint Catherine of Sienna, Queen Isabella, Saint Ignatius or Saint Pius X have indelibly marked the path of history. If, in a sort of historical fiction, we could remove Marcel Lefebvre from the scene of the twentieth century, things would be drastically different in both the Church and the world.
The life and works of this indefatigable apostle changed my life and yours, dear readers. Had he not lived, I would not be a priest, you would maybe have been devoured by the false shepherds; our priestly Society of Saint Pius X with its works, Saint Mary’s and its fruits, would not exist. New generations of American priests, young families, dear friendships and everlasting memories would disappear in a black hole of history. And the darkness of forgetfulness would fall on these halls filled now with the happy voices of children.
Even those who turned their back on him from whom they received every grace must recognize their debt toward the Archbishop. Indult Masses, parallel societies, protocols and gentle smiles of Vatican officials, miters and abbeys, pontifical audiences and blessed papal rosaries were made possible not by a sudden conversion of the Modernist hierarchy but by the holy stubbornness of the "rebellious bishop." Oh yes, his life has been a turning point in our own.
Marcel Lefebvre was born in Tourcoing, France, November 29, 1905 from a family which gave almost fifty of its members to the Church since 1738, amongst them a cardinal, a few bishops and many priests and religious. After the baptism of her newborn child, Mrs. Lefebvre embraced him and said: "This one will have a great role in Rome, close to the Holy Father." Of her eight children, two became missionary Priests, three girls entered in different religious congregations and the other three founded large Catholic families.
Marcel served 5:30 AM Mass every day and was an active member of the Saint Vincent Society, dedicated to the care of the sick. The family atmosphere and his good teachers at the Sacred Heart school prepared him favorably for the priestly vocation.
After his preparatory studies he entered the French Seminary in Rome, and received his doctorates in Philosophy (1925) and Theology (1929) from the Gregorian Pontifical University. Ordained Priest September 21, 1929, he was sent to assist the Parish Priest in the Marais-de-Lomme, and industrial suburb of Lille, France.
The letters of his brother Rene, already in Africa, were instrumental for his decision of entering the novitiate of the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1931. After his first vows he started his great missionary adventure in the ship "Foucauld", destination Gabon, in October 1932.
Teacher of Dogma and Holy Scripture in the Seminary of Libreville, Rector from 1934, he managed to be at the same time teacher, bursar, printer, plumber, electrician, driver... maybe having already in mind his Society’s Priests! He founded there an educational system which permits the Seminary to count today amongst his alumni three bishops and two chiefs of state.
His mother died in 1938, and his father in 1944, after one year of sufferings and privations in the nazi concentration camp of Sonnenburg. The Provincial of France called back Fr. Lefebvre to direct the Novitiate of his congregation in Mortain, and on the 18th of September, 1947, he was consecrated bishop in his hometown by Cardinal Lienart, Bishop Fauret —his former superior at Libreville— and Bishop Ancel. The official journal of the Vatican, "L’Osservatore Romano" (French edition, July 1976) recalls that "in 1947, a young missionary bishop, Mgr. Lefebvre, gave a new life to the work of the Church with the opening of new centers of Catholicism... his creative work left in Africa a profound mark."
As first archbishop of Dakar and Apostolic Delegate of Pope Pius XII for all French-speaking Africa, he created four Episcopal Conferences, twenty-one new dioceses and apostolic prefectures and opened Seminaries in his extended jurisdiction.
He developed the Catholic press in creating modern printing-presses, he organized the Catholic Action in its entirety, he opened hospitals, schools for twelve thousand children and took care of bringing European religious orders to his territory. The first Carmel of Africa was founded at his request in Sebikotane, and the first Benedictine monastery of the Solesmes congregation was opened by him also in Gabon.
His annual visits to Pius XII made possible the decisive action of the Pope in favor of the Missions, and his information and advises were the basis for the magnificent encyclical "Fidei Donum", which reinvigorated the missionary work worldwide.
Dakar was at that time the biggest city of French Africa, with half a million population, of which 90% were Muslims and Animists. The new ideas brought by the soldiers returning from Indochina, the revolutionary mentality imported by students and teachers from France, as well as the hostile proselytism of Protestant sects did not make the task easy for the Archbishop. He tried to build a truly Catholic civilization by his own example, his personal contacts with the clergy and faithful and with his pastoral letters. The latter deserve a special mention; in his writings he treated subjects as religious ignorance, the Catholic family, social and economical problems, Communism, materialism, etc. After fifteen years at the head of the Archdiocese, he left his charge to one of his spiritual children, now Cardinal Thiandoum, in 1962.
John XXIII named him Assistant to the Papal Throne and Roman Count, appointing him to the diocese of Tulle, France. During six months he had the opportunity of witnessing the state of the Church in one of the most pagan regions of France. Practical and objective as usual, when other prelates were having presumptuous dreams about the priests of the 21st century, he took special care of this own clergy, suggesting to his priests to live together in small rural communities to foster their spiritual life. When a young vicar asked to be moved to a big city in order to"have something to do" the new bishop replied: "Say well your Mass and you have already fulfilled the essential of your daily ministry".
In July, 1962, the General Chapter of the Holy Ghost Fathers, the most important missionary Congregation in the Church, elected him as General Superior for twelve years. At the same time the Pope nominated him member of the Preparatory Commission of the Second Vatican Council, to collaborate in the documents which were to be discussed by the conciliar Fathers.
During a meeting of the Central Commission the Archbishop publicly complained about the presence in the sub-commissions of non-Catholics and of doubtful individuals as Hans Kung, Ratzinger (in black suit and tie), Rahner, Congar, Schillebeeckx, and company. Cardinal Ottaviani told him that the Pope himself required their presence! Schillebeeckx wrote at that time: "We now express ourselves in a diplomatic manner, but after the Council we shall take from the texts the conclusions which they implied." And indeed they did it, as we know too well!
With Bishops Morcillo (Madrid), Castro Mayer (Campos), de Proenca-Sigaud (Diamantina) and 250 more prelates, Archbishop Lefebvre created a "traditionalist commando" within the Council, the "Coetus Internationalis Patrum", composed by traditional Fathers who tried to stop the over-powerful influence of the rich and popular Modernist wing directed by Cardinal Bea.
Cardinal Bea, former confessor of Pope Pius XII, was nevertheless a decisive instrument of the Judeo-Masonic sect to obtain from the Council the redaction of "Dignitatis Humanae" and "Nostra Aetate." After the election of Paul VI, who clearly supported the liberal wing, it was obvious that the already ambiguous documents were going to be interpreted in the Modernist point of view. Reducing systematically the influence of the traditionalists and opposing any declaration which could "hurt" non-Catholics (as the document against Communism), Paul VI blessed the adulterous union between the liberal conception of man and society with the Catholic doctrine. And, as you can imagine, an implacable persecution started against the members of the traditional "Coetus." Cardinal Lefebvre, cousin of the Archbishop and one of the most conspicuous liberals in France, declared: "We shall never forgive Mgr. Lefebvre."
The Holy Ghost Fathers called an extraordinary General Chapter in 1968 to revise the Constitutions in the spirit of the Council. When Archbishop Lefebvre protested before the Congregation of Religious at the sight of the internal revolution in the Chapter, he was cordially invited to take a long vacation, as the General of the Redemptorists did in the same situation. The Archbishop presented his resignation, which was accepted two days later, and established his residence in Rome, as chaplain to a convent.
In 1964 some young men wishing to fulfil their priestly vocation went to Archbishop Lefebvre for advice, and he directed them to the French Seminary in Rome, under the care of the Holy Ghost Fathers. In 1966 they were twenty-one, and the Archbishop asked them to be an example for the others, hoping that the new spirit would not harm the institution. But when the time of receiving the tonsure arrived, it was refused to the "integrists," and some of them tried their fortune in other communities, only to find a similar treatment. In 1968 there were only two seminarians in cassock in the whole French Seminary. The communist flag was displayed by seminarians on May, to show their support of the revolutionary students in France. The post-conciliar spirit won the "Seminaire Francais" as it did with all the other Roman institutions. It was time for our seminarians to find a new home.
After various attempts in Italy and France, the Archbishop was encouraged by Fr. Philippe O.P. and the Abbot of Hauterive to open a small Seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland. Bishop Carriere gave his permission and support on June 6, 1969, and one month later the Archbishop rented twelve rooms at the Don Bosco House. The old farm of the canons of St. Bernard in Econe was bought by a group of Swiss laymen to prevent the profanation of the house and its venerable chapel of Our Lady of the Prairies. In September 1970 the first year started at Econe with the approval of Bishop Adam, and the first November Bishop Charriere canonically erected the "Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X" and approved its Constitutions.
Rome issued the Apostolic Constitution "Missale Romanum" on April 3, 1969, presenting the New Mass. The Episcopal Synod of 1967 had already rejected its twin sister, the "Missa Normativa," but Cardinal Lercaro and Monsignor Bugnini convinced without much trouble Paul VI to sign the approval for the "Novus Ordo Missae" which pleased so much the Protestant observers.
The article VII of the "Institutio Generalis" gave a heretical definition of this new liturgy of the Mass and the liberal maffia changed the definition... leaving intact the poisonous defined!
Archbishop Lefebvre gathered together a group of twelve theologians, amongst them Fr. Des Lauriers and Fr. Arriaga, who wrote under his direction the famous "Critical Examination of the N.O.M." The Archbishop obtained a preface by Cardinal Ottaviani, and Mrs. Campo and Princess Pallavicini the signature of Cardinal Bacci. The two cardinals presented the document to Paul VI.
Since no response came from the Vatican, the Archbishop announced to his seminarians, June 10, 1971, the reasons why he refused to accept this new liturgy. Some months before, on February 18, Cardinal Wright from the Congregation of the Clergy issued the "decretum laudis" praising highly the Society, its Constitutions, and its work in different dioceses.
The conspiracy of the envious French Bishops was growing fast. In 1972, the Episcopal Conference in Lourdes called Econe a "savage Seminary," when they knew very well that it was not under their jurisdiction. Society’s Seminaries were opened at Armada (USA, 1973) and Albano (Rome, 1974). In 1974 Econe had more than one hundred students. Traditional priests after the Council? That should be stopped at any price!
Rome sent two Apostolic Visitors November 11, 1974. They said that "Econe is good 99%." Not bad, said the Archbishop, this makes 1% for the Mass! It was necessary to make a public statement in order to clarify the situation of the Society and on December 21, 1974 the Archbishop published in "Itineraires," a French magazine, his declaration in which he proclaims his adhesion to the eternal Rome and his refusal of the neo-modernist and neo-protestant Rome of Vatican II. "The only attitude of fidelity to the Church and to the Catholic doctrine is the categorical refusal of accepting the reformation." Clear, wasn’t it?
Rome answered with an invitation to dialogue. Liberal dialogue, which means in one unique direction, usually the wrong one. Against the provision of the Canon Law, the Society was invalidly suppressed the sixth of May, 1975. French Cardinal Villot forced Cardinal Staffa to refuse the canonical recourse to the Supreme Apostolic Signature--"because of the Tribunal being incompetent." Indeed!--and the Secretary of State wrote to all the Bishops of the world asking them to refuse incardination to the members of the Society. Paul VI, in the Consistory of May 1976 denounced the Archbishop as "disobedient to the renewed liturgy."
Cardinal Benelli asked the Archbishop to celebrate at least once according to the new missal, promising a quick arrangement. He refused, of course, and on the 23rd of July, 1976 a "suspensio a divinis" forbade him to celebrate... the new mass, as the Archbishop said with humor. You remember the abominable way in which the media treated the issue. He was called --already!-- "excommunicated", "arch-excommunicated", "break-away", "schismatic" and so on.
Paul VI received him in Castelgandolfo, September 11, 1976, accusing him to oblige the seminarians to take an oath against the Pope. This was the "accurate" information which Cardinal Villot presented. John-Paul II received the Archbishop in Rome, the sixteenth of November, 1978. After a long conversation the Pope seemed willing enough to make the liturgy a matter of option, when Cardinal Seper immediately exclaimed: "Holy Father, they are making of the Old Mass a banner!" a remark which made a considerable and negative impression on the Pope.
The expansion of the Society continued in every continent. International Seminaries were opened in Germany, Argentina and Australia, and the good Archbishop traveled incessantly to give the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Confirmation, and to comfort the priests and faithful who wanted to keep their Faith before the furious attacks of the Modernist sect. His priestly jubilee was celebrated in Paris, September 23, 1979, by a crowd of twenty-thousand grateful Catholics. In 1982 the General Chapter elected Rev. Franz Schmidberger as new Superior General.
Saint Mary’s College, a venerable Jesuit institution which was abandoned to the Pottawatomi Indians, was acquired by the Archbishop in 1978 to provide a sound Catholic education for children of American Traditional Catholics.
Meanwhile the conversations with the Vatican continued. Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop Castro Mayer wrote an open letter to the Pope in November 1983 denouncing his support of collegiality, the revolutionary "human rights," the protestant mass and the free diffusion of heresies within the Church. The Pope seemed to sponsor this attitude with his scandalous visits to a Protestant temple and the Synagogue in Rome, his idolatrous acts in Togo and India, crowning the job with the ecumenical meeting of all religions at Assisi.
During the priestly ordinations at Econe, June 29, 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre announced his decision of consecrating bishops for the Society, and the Vatican sent immediately Cardinal Gagnon to visit our houses, priests and faithful. He has recently declared that he never had any true hope of "reconciliation," despite his written and spoken praises of the Society’s work. An obscure Protocol was signed the fifth of May, 1988, but the day after, the Archbishop discovered that there were no securities that his conditions will be promptly fulfilled, and he decided to consecrate four auxiliary bishops against the explicit liberal will of the Pope. It was a "survival operation" of Tradition, absolutely justified by the unjust persecution. The prudence and wisdom of this measure is obvious after the death of the Archbishop. This action made of him, Bishop Castro Mayer, and the four young prelates, the first "excommunicated" of the post-conciliar era. The reasons for which the Church rewarded him greatly until the death of Pius XII were now the cause of his condemnation by the new church.
In 1989 he celebrated his sixty years of priesthood before twenty-three thousand faithful and his four new bishops; and in April 1990, the twenty years of the Society. In July the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism sued the Archbishop in a perfidious process, the last one of a long list started by some renegades. The last thorn of his earthly crown!
In voluntary retirement, he spent the next year in writing his "Spiritual Itinerary," preaching retreats and praying in the peace of his beloved Seminary of Econe.
The good Lord took the Archbishop when his holy life was fully accomplished, March 25, 1991, Monday of the Holy Week, in the month of Saint Joseph. Let us pray for the eternal rest of our most beloved Father, and may his intercession help us restore all things in Christ.