Continuing our serialised life of Mgr. Lefebvre as told to the Sisters
of the Society at St. Michel we look this month at the early beginnings of the Society of St. Pius X before the actual purchase of Ecône took place.
We found something at the Don Bosco Fathers on Marly Road. The Fathers agreed to rent practically a whole floor of their building to me so there was room for a chapel and space to put up around a dozen people. They also agreed to give us a separate dining room. They used to put up students in the hope that one of them might have a Salesian vocation. But in fact there were hardly any vocations. It was, if you like, a sort of home for youngsters who were studying in the town but it wasn’t full so the Salesian Father who was looking after it on his own was actually quite happy to rent a part of the building because it would bring in some money to balance his books. He was very nice to us and we got on very well for the year that we stayed there.
We started, waiting to see who would come: Mr. Aulagnier, Mr. Tissier de Mallerais, Mr. Pellabeuf and then six others sent by Fr. Philippe and by other friends in Freiburg, so in the beginning there were nine of them. I tried to find a priest to help me because I was still busy in Rome at the Propaganda. Besides I wasn’t planning on devoting myself entirely to this project. These seminarists would do their philosophy and theology studies at the University of Freiburg, there were no specific seminary courses in the Don Bosco House. It would serve rather as a spiritual setting to help them do their studies and to give them a spiritual, priestly formation. So, I found Fr. Clerc who came to help me for a while. Thus October 1969 was the start of this little community…
Providence was once more leading me along paths I hadn’t planned to take. But I took them!
And so it was, around the 8th December, that I fell ill, really sick I can tell you. I was in Rome and I had the ‘flu, a bad ‘flu, Hong Kong ‘flu. I don’t really know what it was but I felt ghastly, my liver hurt, I ached all over, I couldn’t sleep. I had to take a rest, there was nothing for it. I went to the Holy Ghost Fathers and took a bit of a rest for a few weeks relying on this Fr. Clerc to look after the seminarists. But I just got worse.
Anyway, I finally went to the hospital in Freiburg. Really I thought I was a goner! I couldn’t eat any more, my tongue was completely dry, dry as a bone. I couldn’t swallow any more. The doctors did tests, you know what it’s like, test after test. They tested everything. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” they said, “we can’t find anything, you’re not ill at all.”
There was nothing wrong with me but meanwhile I couldn’t eat any more, I was getting thinner, I was on my way out! Well, anyway, they suddenly got the idea to do a scan of my stomach and liver. I don’t know where they got the idea from. It was providence, I suppose, but at any rate they discovered that I had some parasites which were busy eating up my liver. They were called strongyles. They had sent some samples to the Tropical Institute in Basel and they wrote back,
“Strongyles, he’s going to have to take this and that to get rid of them and after a period of convalescence he’ll be fine.”
Where had I got that? No idea! They said, no, you probably got it in Africa. But I’d left Africa years ago, it wasn’t possible. Well then, someone’s poisoned you! Who knows? I’ve got no idea. The funniest was my little sister Marie-Therese in Columbia. She’s a tease. She went and looked in the Larousse medical dictionary for strongyles and found “parasites normally found in pigs and only generally discovered by autopsy”. My goodness! She was pleased as punch to read that in Larousse. Luckily they discovered it before the autopsy and not after… Anyway, they treated me for it and fortunately I was cured.
So, I was able to get back to the seminarists a bit. But, I really believed that God didn’t want me to get too involved because of the state I’d been in…
Then there were more difficulties! three of the seminarists left then a fourth. By the end of May there was only Mr. Aulagnier, Mr. Tissier de Mallerais and Mr. Pellabeuf left. I said to them,
“My dear friends, next year I think you’re going to have to go back to the interdiocesan seminary that we’ve just been to. You’ll have to keep up the prayers and discipline and what have you. I can’t go on like this, it’s not worth it, we’re going to have to stop.”
Well, Mr. Aulagnier and Mr. Tissier de Mallerais especially said,
“No, we can’t stop now, we don’t want to go to that place where there’s nothing. We don’t want to receive a formation like that, no! No, we want to carry on, perhaps there will be others who will turn up.”
And then, during the month of June, I received 11 requests. Eleven people wanting to come, absolutely incredible! So, I had to carry on, there was nothing for it.
One day, Mr. Aulagnier and Mr. Tissier de Mallerais said to me,
“Monsignor, what’s going to happen to us afterwards? When we leave seminary where are we going to go?”
“Well, you’ll go back to your dioceses and work there”.
“But the bishops are never going to accept us if we remain faithful to tradition, if we wear our cassock and all that sort of thing; they’ll never put up with that! We’ll be sent from pillar to post. We’ll never be able to work in our dioceses.”
“So, what are we going to do?”
“We must stay together, found a society to keep us together, then try and find a bishop who will accept us and let us carry on with Tradition, I can’t see any other way”.
“I see,” I said, “perhaps you’re right… Let’s see if we can start a society. But it will have to be approved, let’s draw up a constitution.”
I drew up the statutes of the Society and took them to Mgr. Charrière saying to myself, “If he agrees with them that’s fine but I’ll be surprised. He knows we’re traditional and he’s coming to the end of his term of office, he wants to retire next January; he’s not going to get involved in something like this. Anyway, we’ll see.”
“OK,” he said, “I’ll have a look. Come back after the holidays, we’ll see.”
So while I was waiting what was I going to do with the eleven young men and the three seminarists who were still there? The Salesians didn’t want them any more. They had clicked that we were for Tradition because we didn’t want to adopt the new mass. Father had said to his provincial,
“You know, they’re traditionalists, they don’t want the new mass they’re still saying the old Mass, we can’t have them staying here, it’s just not on.”
So they let us know that at the end of the year we would have to go. We would have to look for somewhere else.