The final years
The rapid geographical expansion of the Society in England, France and the United States of America, as well as the influx of candidates for the priesthood, reassured Archbishop Lefebvre in his conviction that his work was serving the Church and saving the Catholic priesthood.
Despite the Roman condemnations, which were painful both to him and to his Society, because he refused to implement the liturgical reform, Marcel Lefebvre persisted: “To obey,” he said, “would be to collaborate in the destruction of the Church.” He pursued his initial goal: to form priests with zeal for the true teaching and sanctification of souls. Besides Econe, he founded a seminary in the United States (1974), another in German-speaking Switzerland (1975), which would be relocated to Germany (1977), a fourth in Argentina (1979), a fifth in France (1986) and a sixth in Australia (1986).
Centerpiece of the Society: the priory
The founder, who was also the first superior general, met with his priests for yearly retreats, explained to them that the priories, in which they led a common life of prayer, study and apostolate, are bastions from which they must let their light shine forth all around in various fields of the apostolate. Besides its priories, the Society established chapels and missions, but also primary and secondary schools. The priests are assisted in their work by the brothers of the Society.
Thanks to his two religious sisters, the prelate then founded the society of the Sisters of the Society of St. Pius X and a Carmel, which soon spread (Belgium, France, Switzerland, United States).
Several institutes of women religious, both teaching and nursing sisters, united their works to those of the priests of the Society, as well as societies of priests or men religious founded with the encouragement of Archbishop Lefebvre: Benedictine, Capuchin and Dominican communities that looked to him.
Age did not slow him down
The archbishop traveled throughout the world to preach the pure Faith in its fullness, to support families and to encourage the laity. He also conferred the sacrament of confirmation, despite the frequent displeasure of the local bishops.
In 1982, at the age of 77, he resigned from his position as Superior General of the Society and left the government thereof to his successor, Fr. Franz Schmidberger. For a long time he hoped that one bishop or another would take care of the confirmations and especially the priestly ordinations after he was gone, or more reliably, that Rome would once again recognize the Society of St. Pius X by giving it a modified canonical status: sufficient freedom of action in relation to the dioceses, and the grant of at least one bishop, a member of the Society, to confer holy orders.
But his efforts along these lines with the Roman authorities failed in May 1988. Given his advanced age, and not wishing to leave hundreds of seminarians and thousands of lay faithful orphans, he had no alternative but to consecrate four bishops himself, despite the opposition of Pope John Paul II. On June 30, 1988, in Econe, with Bishop de Castro Mayer, he consecrated his successors in the episcopacy.
In agreeing to incur unjustly the penalty of excommunication, he deemed that the situation of necessity of the faithful, caused by the modernism of the highest-ranking ecclesial authorities, justified his act, which he called “Operation Survival”.
With complete peace of mind and soul he passed away on March 25, 1991.
- 1. Withdrawal of approval for the Society by Bishop Charriere’s successor on May 6, 1975; suspension a divinis on July 1, 1976.