Continuing our serialised life of Mgr. Lefebvre as told to the Sisters
of the Society at St. Michel we look this month at the disastrous measures taken
at the Council which meant for Mgr. Lefebvre the end of his time as Superior …
and a new beginning, of the Society of St. Pius X Beliefs.
My resignation was accepted. I was no longer the Superior General and I could no longer stay with the Congregation considering the revolutionary direction it had taken, it would have been absolutely impossible. So, I looked for a place in Rome where I would find refuge. And I found it with the Lithuanian Fathers on Lithuania Street. These Lithuanian priests had a seminary and opposite the seminary on the other side of the street a sort of guest house where Lithuanian priests who were visiting Rome could stay and where a few priests who were working in Rome lived permanently. So, I asked if they would take me in and very kindly they agreed to.
Anyway, I moved my few personal effects and moved into this guest house of the Lithuanian Fathers, where I was looked after by the German sisters of St. Katherine. These sisters have got big hospitals in Freiburg and elsewhere. There’s quite a few of them and they had agreed to look after the Lithuanian Fathers and this little guest house which they had for priests. I got to know these sisters and they were very kind and devoted. They included a small group of Brazilian sisters from the province of Santa Catarina.
I moved in there and during that time I had nothing to do with the Congregation since I was no longer in charge. I kept some contact with one or two of the Fathers whom I had known well at the General Chapter and in the General Counsel. But everything had changed since I’d gone, obviously.
The Congregation of the Propaganda asked me to help them out a bit, looking after the concept of catechism in Africa. I went, but not for long because shortly, well, you know what happened, it’s really hardly worth carrying on these articles because we’ve really reached the end…
Yes, it was the end of my career and the beginning of the foundation of the Society of St. Pius X. That was when a few of the young men at the French Seminary, Mr. Aulagnier, Mr. Cottard and a few others, I think there were around a half dozen, came to see me to describe the situation at the French Seminary where things were getting worse and worse: no more discipline, the seminarists were out at night, no more cassock, a new liturgy every week. There was a liturgical team whose job it was to invent a new liturgy… It was really a complete mess in the French Seminary which I had known when it was flourishing and which had left me with so many good memories.
Anyway, these young seminarists insisted that I do something for them since I was now free. Personally I wasn’t so keen to go back to work. It was 1969 and I thought, since I was nearly 65, that it wasn’t really the time to be starting something new. Lots of people retire at 65, so I thought perhaps I could do so also. But faced with their persistence I decided to see what I could do for them but certainly nothing like founding a new Society of any sort whatsoever. Not in my wildest dreams!
When I had been Superior General I had had some contacts in Switzerland and particularly with the Swiss District who had a house for students and sent them to the University in Freiburg. I knew Mgr. Charrière very well, he had come to Dakar when I was Archbishop and I knew him personally. Using him, I thought there would be a way to put these few seminarists in the Holy Ghost Fathers’ seminary in Freiburg so that they could continue their studies at the University. I thought that would be the easiest solution.
So, I sent some of them immediately to get them out of the atmosphere where they were. I went to Freiburg a few times to see them and see how things were going. But even there there was aggiornamento. Even there there were changes. They couldn’t fit in with the Holy Ghost Fathers because they too were changing the liturgy, they’d abandonned clerical dress and there was no more discipline. They said to me,
“Oh dear, we won’t be able to stay long, there’s no more formation, they give us nothing, no spiritual instruction, nothing at all. We can’t stay there!”
“Oh bother, what a nuisance!” I said to myself.
So, I went to see Mgr. Charrière and I asked him if there wasn’t anything better than this house of the Holy Ghost Fathers, where these young men I was looking after could find refuge and a certain formation. He said to me,
“You know, Monsignor, the situation is very bad at the moment and it’s getting worse every day. I’m actually rather pessimistic about the future of the diocese and the formation of priests. Very pessimistic. I can’t see how things are going to get better. At any rate, we do have an interdiocesan seminary which is used by all the dioceses in Switzerland and there are even lay students there. I imagine they would accept your students too. Why don’t you try there?”
I went to the interdiocesan seminary. The superior received me very warmly and said to me,
“Monsignor, we take in lay students so there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t take in your young seminarists as well. They could go to the University too, there would be no problem. Of course, I have to say there would be no particular formation for your seminarists. They would lodge here, they could do what they like, do what they want, we wouldn’t look after them like that. But if they want, they’re welcome to have their own rule of life and to follow it; they can have their pious practices for themselves in the chapel, there’s no problem there. But don’t expect us to do anything. We’ll put them up, we’ll feed them but we can’t do anything more than that.”
I thought to myself,
“It’s just the same as at the Holy Ghost Fathers. The official liturgy there will be a new liturgy and all the rest will be in a state of flux… It’s not worth them going. There’s no discipline, they can go out whenever they want, even at night. No, it’s no good. I can’t take responsibility for seminarists’ formation in such circumstances.”
What was I to do? Surely there was an answer. Knowing that I was sort of looking after some seminarists, Fr. Philip, a Dominican, Mr. Bernard Faÿ, a layman, both professors at the University, Fr. Abbe d’Houterive and another layman who was also friendly with us and who looked after teaching in Freiburg asked to come and see me. They wanted to talk a bit about the question of forming seminarists. They were interested and wanted to know if there wasn’t something that could be done…
Anyway, they took me to Mr. Bernard Faÿ and tried to change my mind. They said to me,
“Monsignor, you’ve got to do something, you can’t just abandon them like that. We will see to it that you get others, it’s not very difficult. In fact we know several people who are looking for a proper formation.”
“I’m now 65 years old and you want me to start something!… Oh well, I don’t mind looking after these seminarists and I’m prepared to look for money to pay for their lodging, I don’t mind guiding their studies a bit, I’m willing to help. They should find a priest, a chaplain, to look after them; I don’t mind something like that. But I’m in Rome, I’ve no intention of leaving Rome. I don’t want to start something new.”
So, faced with this idea which had no appeal for me at all, once again it was Providence which forced me forward. I said,
“Alright, we’ll do it like this, if you insist, Mgr. Charrière will decide. I know Mgr. Charrière, the bishop of Freiburg, I’ll go and see him. If he encourages me, O.K. I’ll see if I can’t organise something for these seminarists. But there was still no idea of starting a Society: simply looking after these seminarists in a more particular way.
“And if Mgr. Charrière doesn’t like the idea then I’ll do nothing or at least I’ll do what he tells me”.
I went to see Mgr. Charrière and explained everything to him. He said to me,
“Yes, yes, of course, you know the whole situation is very serious, you’ll see yourself, things are only going to get worse. Please, please do something. Look for something here in the city, rent a house, put your seminarists there and look after them. If you don’t they won’t get any formation. You’ve got to do something for them, you can’t just abandon them”. So, I answered,
“Since you’re the voice of Providence we’ll see what we can do. I’ll have to think about it and then see if we can find somewhere to put them up.”
So, together with our friends in Freiburg we started looking for a place to put our seminarists in the town so that they would have a better atmosphere more in line with the formation we were trying to give them, a real formation, a formation for priests with a chapel, the Mass, spiritual instructions, a rule, discipline and so on. It was to be a proper seminary.