month's excerpt from the book "Vatican Encounter: Conversations
with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre" by Jose Hanu, the Archbishop
speaks about the beginnings of the Society of Saint Pius X.
so, judging the Council by its fruits, you wanted to found a seminary
with your own means, one that, if I may say so, would be "anti-conciliar,"
in order to maintain "solid doctrine"?
Marcel Lefebvre: I did not want anything of the kind!
I found myself in Rome, where I had just resigned as Superior General
of the Congregation of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost. They, too,
had been infected by the virus of collegiality. They had called
a special chapter, which was to turn everything upside down. They
needed "a direction-giving team," commissions, and, of
course, debates, lobbies, negotiations, votes, etc.
And these were
the same men who, only a few years before, had implored me to take
the head post. But I did not want to preside over the ruin of our
own congregation, where I had spent so many years. I left them to
I had a very
small pension, which barely permitted me to live, but I did not
care; I welcomed that retreat which permitted me to pray and work.
It was then
that many young people, either recommended or led to me by saintly
priests or laymen, began to seek me out. Those young men felt a
vocation, felt they were destined to the priesthood, but they found
it impossible to prepare for the priesthood in one of the "new"
seminaries. They were young people of very high calibre. They did
not only seek advice; they also sought spiritual direction. They
hoped that I would accept them.
What was I
to do? Did I have the right to disappoint them? I always was of
the opinion that one has to accept the things the way God sends.
I told them:
not call you here. I don't even know you. You came on your own,
by your own free will. If you really want to, you will follow a
very serious and profound course of studies, you will have a life
of prayer and sacrifice, which will sustain your vocation and will
permit you, I hope, later to attain a fruitful apostolate.
I am still
saying the same things to the young men who feel that they were
chosen by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and who come to see me. I have
never "called" anybody. I have never held anybody back.
God is the master of souls, especially those of future priests.
If he sends them to me, all I do is try to point out the right way.
I have them
first study in Rome. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get all
these young men together and to find the financial wherewithal.
There was, of course, the French Seminary, but there I met many
I talked to
Bishop Charriere, bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg. I knew
him well. He had come to Senegal in May of 1958 to bless the new
church of Fatick, built partly from contributions from his diocese.
It was certainly providential that Bishop Charriere should remember
his visit to Dakar and Senegal. He suggested that I assemble my
young seminarians at the Catholic University of Fribourg. That is
how the "Zealots" were founded and later the International
Confraternity of Priests of St. Pius X, for which Bishop Charriere
was good enough to sign the founding documents.
though I had thought that I would find in a university of such standing
and repute excellent Catholic teachings, I regretfully had to state
the contrary. This university, like the others, had been contaminated
by the new ideas. Future priests went there, their hair long and
their pants in tatters. And the professors of moral theology held
views, as I told you, that were contrary to orthodoxy. My seminarians
were quite upset about it. It was not in order to receive that kind
of teaching that they had turned to me!
Thanks to the
goodwill of some fine Catholics of Valais, (the Swiss canton where
Econe is located) I placed my first-year seminarians in a house,
which they had bought in Econe. I decided, with their permission,
to add on to it and make it a true seminary with professors who
would be able to form true priests, according to tradition.
Hanu: You enlarged an old house and put up
a new modern building, flanked by other buildings. The entire structure
would accommodate, in individual rooms, 140 professors and seminarians,
and would contain a chapel, refectory, class and study rooms, kitchens,
common rooms, and a religious community, which took over the services.
That must have cost a small fortune!
Where did the
money come from? Where is it still coming from? Because now you
have other houses: in Germany, in Italy, in England, in the U.S.A.,
without counting the priories which you just bought to permit the
priests whom you ordained to fulfill their ministry.
Marcel Lefebvre: I thank Providence and the
intercession of St. Joseph. It was with us as it was with the Little
Sisters of the Poor. And, as with them, neither Providence nor St.
Joseph has ever abandoned us. Hadn't I already built, in Senegal,
churches, schools, welfare centers, youth hostels? Providence has
always helped me and never let my hands be empty.
Hanu: But Excellency, we are talking here about enormous
sums! People talk about billions of old francs, of very rich Americans
who built "a bridge of gold" for you, of European capitalists
who subsidized you.
Marcel Lefebvre: That's completely untrue,
pure imagination. People talk without rhyme or reason. As you know,
the old house at Econe, with its little chapel, belonged to the
Canons of the Great St. Bernard. The canons wanted to sell the house.
The buyer wanted to transform it into a hotel, and possibly a hotel
of doubtful character. Catholics of the village and of the district
were so upset about it that they formed a group to buy it themselves,
so that it could remain a house of faith. And we have come to an
agreement with them concerning its use.
When I wanted
to add on to the house, to make it bigger, I asked myself: "Where
will I find so much money?" But confident in St. Joseph, I
had great hopes.
At that time,
I was about to leave Paris for Rome. A lady called me: she wanted
to see me right away. You see, the number of people who want to
see me is important. In most cases, it means considerable loss of
time. So I tried to avoid seeing that lady. But she was so anxious
to meet me, if only for a few moments, that I gave in. She meant
to tell me how pleased she was with what I had said at the Council
and to promise that she would help me in the battle I was fighting
– and that she did most generously.
The new buildings
at Econe will be paid for! Always Providence. Providence is here
every day and appears in the thousands of Catholics who help us,
penny by penny. Actually, big gifts appear and the growing work
makes for growing expenses. It is all right to buy old properties
but often you have to spend more to salvage them than if you buy
new houses! But it is the small gifts of the modest, even poor Catholics
that count, and it is thanks to these contributions that we are
living. They make it possible for the penniless seminarians to continue
their studies. Whatever people say, the majority of our seminarians
come from modest, even very modest, backgrounds. Their families
cannot afford the cost of room and board, which amounts to 30 francs
a day, 28,000 old francs a month.
of Catholics - children that save five francs from their allowance,
the households of small pensioners who send us ten francs per month
- all make it possible that about fifty vocations can blossom at
Hanu: Providence, I am told, also takes care of transportation.
Everybody at Econe and roundabout knows the "chauffeurs of
the Bishop." There are four of them. They are men from the
country, neither rich nor poor, who are completely devoted to you.
A phone call, and one of the four is here - to take you to Italy,
France or Germany, ready to deliver your reply to the Pope, to the
Vatican, ready to drive one of the priests of Econe to one of the
priories. Quick, reliable and, above all, often free transportation.
When you went to Canada, one of them went with you all the way.
Marcel Lefebvre: True, Providence has willed
that there would be such faithful. And for Econe, it is a blessing
from Heaven. Thanks to them, I can travel thousands of kilometers,
without getting too tired, without having to trouble myself with
trains, flights, taxis. This system has another advantage: by often
changing my means of transport, I can elude the journalists easier.
But what is inconvenient are the conclusions certain people are
drawing. They think we have unlimited wealth. Didn't I get to Lille
in a "sumptuous white Mercedes" and to the Vatican a few
days later in a "prestigious blue S.D.S."? Well, after
having driven myself for 47 years, I don't even have a car anymore.
Hanu: The attitude of your seminarians strikes me,
Excellency, as having a certain family-like background. This seems
to contrast with the fact that half of them are unable to assume
the expenses of their studies.
Marcel Lefebvre: That is the grace,
which shines in their faces and also the custom of wearing the cassock.
When they arrive in their civilian clothes, it is easy to recognize
the sons of the middle classes and those of working classes. But
as soon as they wear the habit, they all have the same appearance.
The seminary quickly takes care of all social differences. They
are all brothers. It is nothing like when the GFU and GFO get together.
Hanu: In general, it seems to me they are no longer
very young men.
Marcel Lefebvre: Some of them enter at seventeen
or eighteen years, some of them later. God calls them in His own
time. But I am happy with the average age, which is about twenty-three.
These are young men who have already finished their studies and
sometimes they are very highly educated; they come from great schools,
have master's degrees, even doctorates. They have thought deeply
and they know what they want.
Hanu: But the life at Econe really is not
very attractive. Here is a schedule:
Community Mass (first-class and second class feast days,
High Mass is sung at 7am, as well as on First Fridays and
Recreation (Wednesday afternoon, free from 1:00-5:30)
Class or study
Class or study
Community prayer (Rosary, Way of the Cross, etc.)
Compline and the "grand silence"
That's a very
hard life, Excellency!
Marcel Lefebvre: That was the kind of life
led in all the seminaries fifteen or twenty years ago. It seems
hard at the beginning, but one gets accustomed quickly and time
passes incredibly fast.
house not be a house of formation for regularity and silence, for
the mastery of self, and all the natural virtues, which are the
necessary complement to supernatural virtues? But it does not mean
that the life is sad. On the contrary. As you saw yourself, all
these young men look happy. They have fun.
Fool's Day, they played a little joke on me. The main course for
lunch was in a small bowl, with a tight lid. When I lifted the lid,
I found clear water with two little fish in it.
Hanu: The enemies of Econe - and God
knows there are many - say that the course of study is mediocre,
for the simple reason that "no intelligent Catholic can follow
you" and that thus the level of your professors leaves much
to be desired.
Marcel Lefebvre: People say so many things!
For instance, after a visit of inspection in the name of the Vatican
here at Econe, Monsignor Descamps, honorary president of the Catholic
University of Louvain and secretary of the Episcopal Biblical Commission,
declared in an interview with La Libre Belgique that we were
of "incredible fanaticism."
But he was
unable to justify this accusation. Speaking of Econe he said: "The
style of this seminary was absolutely in line with tradition and
in this sense it was an edifying seminary, with a very sympathetic
community, with much order and discipline, a great sense of silence
and religious exercises, great faithfulness to all the rules of
seminaries such as we have known them." If this is "fanaticism,"
we must change the definition of the word in the dictionaries. As
to the level of our professors, I can vouch that it is altogether
excellent, even remarkable.
of the seminary and director of studies is Canon Berthod, who has
a Ph.D. in theology. Before coming here, he was head of the famous
Catholic College at Champitet, and has been superior of the novitiate
of the Great St. Bernard order. Among the young chair holders, one
comes from Central, another has a master's degree in biology, another
a master's degree in history from the Sorbonne. Among the other
professors or lecturers, one holds an important chair in a great
French Catholic university and is an official member of the household
of several dioceses.
is guaranteed by priests who have had much experience with parish
work. Canon law is taught by a great Roman specialist, author of
several first-class works. I can therefore say very firmly that
the training dispensed here is at least equal in every respect to
that in other seminaries. The study lasts six years - as long as
medical studies. It does not leave untouched anything a priest should
know for his own sanctification, as well as for the happy accomplishment
of his ministry among the faithful, in the parish or elsewhere.
Hanu: But, Excellency, what will become of these
young priests, since all the dioceses obstinately refuse them? Sometimes,
I have to admit, even very nastily. Two of your seminarians told
me that when they were on vacation with their parents, they wanted
to visit their respective parish priests and that these two pastors
closed the door in their faces! Seems that the sight of a cassock
alone was insufferable for them. One observation, though - the same
seminarians were easily comforted by the fact that, for example,
in the bus, which they boarded, many people stood up and said: "Please,
sit down." They gave their seats to them and greeted them as
Marcel Lefebvre: Yes, well, at the moment,
it is true, the dioceses and the bishops refuse these young priests.
But the faithful call them. That is why I have no worries in this
regard. Our priests will live by two and three in our priories.
They will be able to fulfill their apostolate from there. Those
who are already installed there are beloved and respected and have
many faithful who watch over them.
what about the worldly temptations which they were spared so far?
How will they face them? And how can they advise the adolescents
and Catholic couples?
Marcel Lefebvre: I was waiting for that question!
Our seminarians each year have three months of vacation. They have
ample leisure with their families or in the youth camps which they
take care of, or otherwise, to be confronted by temptation. But
be assured that our seminarians receive all the instruction necessary
about problems of morals.
to the young and to Catholic couples has two sides, a technical
one, so to say, and a religious one. The first one is not our concern
but that of laymen: physicians, professors, parents of good will
who have received the necessary educational preparation. It is different
with the moral and religious aspect, which is the priest's concern.
Is it necessary to be married, as some pretend, to be able to give
counsel and guidance in this field? That means that a physician
would be looked upon askance, treating a diabetic, if he never had
been a diabetic himself. It is precisely because the seminarians
at Econe and the priests we have formed have their bodies under
control, thanks to a life of work, prayer and asceticism, and thanks
also to their courage and their faith. They have credibility in
the eyes of Christians who are troubled about a perverted world.
The example they are giving enables them to exhort single or married
Catholics to obey the law of the Church. Their own experience of
chastity allows them to do spiritual counseling.
May it please
Heaven that the seminarians who "are questing" in the
conciliar Church be of the same calibre!
I, Part II, Part
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109
Vol. XVII, No.4, April 1994