A leader’s charisma
In Gabon, he delicately took the natives into account, drawing the best from his native seminarians; he was “firm in his ideas and much loved by his students.”
According to his assistant, he was “firm, moderate, very personal in his evaluations and decisions, and remarkable as far as organization and material equipment were concerned.” In the bush, he was the good Father. But watch out! “When it’s no, it’s no.”
A loving and beloved father
In Mortain, where there was great need after the war, “the excellent family spirit he maintained came from the ease with which he mastered material problems”: lodging (putting panes in the open windows, finding blankets, tables, toilets), food (he made the round of the farms in his truck every morning): “He would roll up his sleeves,” said an old man, “we could tell he was taking care of us and that he loved us.”
A very human leader
Still in Mortain, confreres who came to visit were surprised by the mutual trust that reigned between the director and his students, and by the initiatives this allowed him to leave up to them: such is the fruit of a “very human government”. Though human, he was also firm when his students’ liberal ideas or their democratic illusions needed correcting.
In Dakar, he was “the man of smiling calm and infinite kindness,” with a deep respect for people and the options and initiatives of others, but he knew how to act firmly and uncompromisingly when principles were at stake.
This man was like a paradox; he was so kind and merciful… He had to send two confreres back to France, and in the end, he called one of them back. I thought to myself: Well, he is more severe on a rubric than on a person!”
At the same time, he was an incomparable organizer, with a sense for priorities; he knew how to obtain his objectives in their subordinate order, and discerned the best investment that would yield the best, while taking into account the available means and leaving none of the essentials out. He knew how to found a mission: “Meter by meter,” recalls a missionary,
he gained ground with his feet and his legs. He knew how many meters were needed for the rectory, where to place the church, how far away to build the school, a little farther the sisters and other things; and I would watch him… You could tell he had thought the foundation out and that it had to be realized just as he saw it in his mind.”
A refined political position
In Dakar, a militant for the Cite Catholique saw in Archbishop Lefebvre “an intelligence far superior to that of the ordinary clergy” and a man who was “very observant of the political world.” The prelate was familiar with the counter-revolutionary, or rather Catholic, political position that was being developed at the time by Leon de Poncins, Jacques Ploncard d’Assac and Jean Madiran, from whom he received the magazine Itineraires.
Freemason though he was, the Governor General of French West Africa (AOF) admitted:
Archbishop Lefebvre is the most intelligent man I have met in Africa. So when he comes to see me, I am very careful what I say to him and I listen closely to whatever he is good enough to confide in me.”
Presence and distinction
As Superior General of the Spiritan Fathers, here is how the congregation’s historian described him:
Tall and of a fine presence, with a face that shone with interest and goodness, when he appeared, he made an immediate and deep impression; he had a special quality, a magnetism, something more than charm; he never lost this aura of distinction, this irresistible personal power.”
A sense for events and opportunities
One of his collaborators recounts:
What a superior he was! Goodness, welcome, a listening ear, upright! It was a joy to work with him; in his hands, everything had a simple solution. He did not get lost in the details, and one always left encouraged.”
Another Spiritan adds with finesse:
He knew how to express his thoughts clearly, and gave the impression that he understood concrete things and that things were well ordered in his mind and ready, in the form of diverse projects—so diverse they sometimes appeared contradictory—, ready to be implemented in the way that his sense for events and his ability to evaluate opportunities would demand.”
An iron hand in a velvet glove
“We call him the ‘iron hand in a velvet glove’. He never gives up. He has a line of conduct planned out and he organizes.” He commanded without seeming to; he was full of authority, but an authority that was not burdensome. He was open to his missionaries’ initiatives and he supported them. When he did not explain his reasons, he calmly repeated the order and one had no choice but to obey. This skill in government was very effective. And he trusted; that was his byword.