So, I was made bishop of Tulle. I really knew nothing about the diocese of Tulle which is a diocese somewhere in the middle of France. I didn’t even really know where it was. Anyway, I went to see the vicars general. I also met the previous bishop, Mgr. Chassagne, to find out a bit about what sort of state the diocese was in. He had resigned. He was a very holy, very good bishop and he received me with great kindness. The vicars general were also very friendly. Everything went well.
Pope John WWIII with Archbishop Lefebvre
I didn’t really have any difficulties and besides I already had some experience of running a diocese. The problem was that this diocese, like many in France at the time, was in a very sorry state. Everything was in decline. There were no more vocations so the villages were being abandonned by the sisters who had been there, the hospitals, the Catholic schools. There were fewer and fewer priests and so those left had to look after more parishes, the were hardly any vocations for the seminary perhaps three or four for the diocese… It was a dying diocese but it was not dead yet. I made an effort to go and see the priest and to encourage them. “All is not lost” I told them. “We must try and keep the Catholic schools going since that is where our vocations are going to come from. We must try and support the only diocesan congregation of sisters which was founded here”. The sisters were looking after a lot of the parishes in the same way the Society sisters do, working in the clinics, in the small primary schools or helping the priests in the parishes. They did a tremendous amount of work and were really loved by the people. So, I encouraged the priests saying, “You must send them vocations, send young women to this congregation”.
But, I was not there long – just six months…
The General Chapter of the Holy Ghost Fathers was held from 22nd August in Chevilly-Larue.
To elect an Superior General a two thirds majority of the votes were necessary. A bishop couldn’t be elected with merely a simple majority, fifty one percent would not be enough. Sixty seven percent would be necessary.
After the first ballot I was only two percent away from being elected. So, I stood up and said,
“Listen, just let me stay in Tulle. I’ve only been there six months and I’m just getting to know the priests and people and what they’re doing. They’ve not had a bishop for two years and they could be left without one again… John XXIII put me in charge of Tulle, just leave me there…”
At the second ballot it was seventy then seventy two percent there was nothing to be done. It seemed God was leading me the whole time, always against my wishes! Well, I tried to accept it fully and bravely and I think this is one of the lessons which you can draw from this. When we do the will of God and not our own the Good Lord blesses us. In the end we even become fond of the task which God has given us. So, don’t be afraid!
The Pope’s approval still had to be sought. I was after all the bishop of Tulle and the Congregation couldn’t just pluck me from my diocese like that without the Pope’s permission. Via the General Secretary the following telegramme was sent, “Request confirmation of the election of Archbishop Lefe vrfe as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers.” Pope John XXIII wrote back, “I bless the election of Archbishop Lefebvre as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers.”
Fine, so that was the end of Tulle now I was Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. That was August 1962 just before the beginning of the Council which began in October of the same year. So, just before the balloon went up! The Third World War as I call it. I had survived the 1914 -18 war, then the 1939 – 45 war now it was the 1962 -65 one, the war of the Council and I believe it was the worst of the lot. It was the worst because it killed souls. The casualties weren’t bodies but souls.
So, there I was, Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. I had done all my studies in Rome with the Holy Ghost Fathers. Nonetheless the French Seminary didn’t form future members of the Congregation; once the studies were finished the seminarists returned to their dioceses. I knew the Congregation rather well but because I had only done the Novitiate year and then left immediately for the missions I didn’t really know many of the Holy Ghost Fathers themselves.
Anyway, that didn’t matter since I had very good Assistants. I had six Assistants because there were five thousand two hundred members in the Congregation and sixty bishops. The Congregation had sixty bishops with dioceses in Africa, South America, the United States and Canada. We had bishops more or less everywhere though you can’t really say throughout the whole world since the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers was for the evangelisation of the blacks. There had to be blacks in order to justify our presence. That was how we had parishes in the United States, especially in Louisiana where there were a lot of blacks. We even had one in Harlem the suburb of New York where even the police won’t go! Taxis also won’t go there either. If you get in a cab and ask to go there they will stop before they get there and the driver will say, “Right that’s it, you’ll have to walk the rest of the way, we don’t go in there”. Ghastly! Nonetheless we had a parish there and I think two priests still go there to visit the hospital which is just over 500 yds inside if there’s an accident…and there are lots of accidents. There are Puerto Ricans there, all sorts. They kill each other or wound one another in fights with knives in the cafes and so on… Then they come to the hopital and if they say they are Catholics they call a priest since, because they’re in danger of death, they should be given Extreme Unction. Since it’s not even a third of a mile away the priests used to walk and as priests wearing the cassock they were respected and were not robbed or attacked. Now they have to have a police escort for safety. Incredible,quite incredible! Still, that’s how it was. No, the Congregation was very, very extensive, very big indeed!