And that’s how, I would say, Providence led me and my brother, through the war. If there hadn’t been a war, obviously he would never have gone to study in Versailles and if he had have had a missionary vocation he would have gone straight into the Holy Ghost Fathers or the White Fathers. But because he was in Versailles he asked my father if he could go to the seminary in Grandchamp to do his philosophy and finish his studies. He was accepted, not that he had already made up his mind he had a vocation. That’s not why he went to the major seminary but at that time they were quite generous in opening doors to everyone especially those who came from the occupied regions.
So, he finished his studies in the Grandchamp seminary at Versailles and his philosophy teacher was no less a person that Fr. Colin. Fr. Colin, author of a book on philosophy was very Roman, very attached to Rome, attached to the French seminary where he had studied. When my father said to him that his son could possibly have a vocation, it was decided, with René’s agreement that he would go to study in Rome in the French seminary because the region of Lille was still closed. He left in 1919.
See how Providence organises things. Once the war was over we could meet up again. In 1919 we met again in our family home with my father. My brother, René was already at seminary but had returned for the holidays.
Finally, in 1923 when I myself said to my parents “I would like to become a priest” my idea was to be a priest in a diocese, priest, curate, parish priest… in a village. So I thought of going to the diocesan seminary in Lille; I couldn’t see myself going to Rome, I wasn’t a great intellectual and you had to study in Latin…
To go there, go to the Gregorian University, pass difficult exams… “No, I want to stay in the diocese because I want to work in the diocese, no point in going there.” My father told me, “No, no, no, no, you must go and join your brother! Your brother is in Rome and you must go to Rome too! Besides, the diocese…” He was a bit suspicious of the progressive atmosphere of the seminary and the reputation of him who was later to become Cardinal Liénart. [Achille Liénart, born 1884 in Lille had been the rector of the major seminary before the war. In 1919 he was made dean parish priest of the church St. Christopher in Tourcoing. He was made bishop of Lille in 1928 and Cardinal in 1930. He was to become one of the figureheads of the French progressive movement right up to Vatican II].
My father wasn’t at all progressive, so “No, no, Rome will be better”.
Fr. Le Floch
He was so adamant that I too left in 1923 to go to the French seminary. See how Providence organises things. If the war hadn’t happened, my brother would have gone to a missionary congregation and I would have stayed in the diocese of Lille, in the Lille diocesan seminary, I would not have gone to Rome. That would have completely changed my life, completely changed it. So I left for Rome to go to the French seminary and I thank God every day that my father wanted me to go there and that he didn’t take into account what I might have wanted. A revelation awaited me there: Fr. Le Floch and the other professors taught how one should see all events of contemporary history, discover the errors, liberalism, modernism and so many other things which we’d never heard of before, how we should look for the truth in the Encyclicals of the Popes and especially the Encyclicals of St. Pius X, Leo XIII and all the Popes who had preceded them.
That’s what we studied in seminary. For me it was a complete revelation. It was then that the desire, if I may call it that, grew in all of us, in all the seminarists (there were 220 of us), the desire to conform our judgment to that of the Popes. We used to ask ourselves: now, how did the Popes judge the events, the ideas, the men and other things of their times? And Fr. Le Floch showed us clearly the main ideas of these different Popes which were always the same, exactly the same, in their Encyclicals. That showed us very clearly how we should judge history, how we should judge events, where the errors were, where the truth was, how we should think… It was a revelation, absolutely and from that moment on it stayed with us. We kept that attachment to all those beautiful Encyclicals of the Popes which show us what is bad in today’s world, the sources of evil, the sources of errors and which tell us where the truth is.
So, you see, that was a first stage in my life which shows very well how God guided me by small things. The fact, for example, that my brother did his studies under Fr. Colin who himself was fervently Roman and who advised my father to send my brother to Rome. If my brother hadn’t been with Fr. Colin, well, we wouldn’t have received our orientation towards Rome and I would have probably stayed in my diocese. It’s incredible how Providence guides events, isn’t it!
So, in spite of my appre-hensiveness, I was led to the French seminary with my brother. In charge of the seminary which was run by the Holy Ghost Fathers was Fr. Le Floch.
As I said, the French seminary was a veritable revelation for me and a light for the whole of my priestly and episcopal life: to see events in the spirit of a century and a half of Sovereign Pontiffs, most especially the events since the French revolution, all the errors which came from these ideas which are completely opposed to the Church’s doctrine. The Popes denounced them, the Popes condemned them and thus we must also condemn them.