"If the Roman officials, particularly the pope himself, calls us to lend a hand in the re-Christianization of society, then we can only be glad, while keeping watch over the conservation of our integrity, to remain what we are."
Fr. Schmidberger recounts 40 years of priesthood
December 07, 2015 District of the USA
We offer an interview with Fr. Franz Schmidberger on the occasion of his 40th priestly anniversary, along with an image gallery and the sermon given by Archbishop Lefebvre for his ordination in 1975.
In honor of the 40th priestly anniversary of Fr. Franz Schmidberger, former SSPX Superior General, we offer the following interview.
See also the image gallery of Fr. Schmidberger throughout the years of his priestly ministry.
Read the sermon given by Archbishop Lefebvre on occasion of the priestly ordination of Fr. Schmidberger on December 8, 1975.
Father, this year you are celebrating your 40th anniversary as a priest. Forty years ago in the middle of the post-conciliar confusion, the Society of St. Pius X had just been formed. It would enter into a gigantic struggle to preserve Tradition! You followed all the twists and turns of those battles, first as the head of the Society from 1982 to 1994, and then in the various combat positions you held. Currently you are the rector of the SSPX German-speaking seminary in Zaitzkofen, where you reside.
1. How did your vocation begin?
The first time I heard the Lord’s call was on the occasion of a First Mass celebrated in a neighboring town where the church is dedicated to Mary Immaculate. I was not quite 12 years old. When I got home, I said to my mother, “I want to become a priest.” She replied: “If it is really what you want to do, you may.” That first call was lost over the course of the years, but it sporadically reappeared, without taking definite shape.
2. What were your reasons for entering Archbishop Lefebvre’s seminary?
On October 14, 1972, after earning a degree in mathematics, I entered the Seminary of St. Pius X in Econe, because like other young people from a student group in Munich to which I belonged, I was categorically opposed to the Novus Ordo Missae and the whole modernization of the Church. I could never have entered a seminary which had adopted the new liturgy, and I also did not want to be ordained by a bishop who celebrated the New Mass.
3. How would you summarize your time at the seminary?
At first it was a matter of improving my competency in French, which dated back to secondary school. But afterwards the seminary in Econe was, for me, a true time of grace.
For Spirituality, we had an excellent instructor, Fr. Gottlieb, who had been formed at the French Seminary in Rome. Canon Berthod, the rector of the seminary and professor of moral theology, ingrained in us the Scholastic approach of the Church. Then there was Fr. Ceslas Spicq, a Dominican, for exegesis, and Fr. Thomas Mehrle, also a Dominican, for dogmatic theology.
We received our formation in prayer life and spiritual combat from Fr. Barrielle, the spiritual director who also transmitted to us the inestimable treasure of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He did everything he could so that we would, in turn, would be able to preach the Ignatian Exercises. We cannot thank him enough for that.
But most of all, there was the figure of the archbishop himself, who, as a man of the Church, set the course, and, as a true father of his seminarians, instilled in our hearts an aversion for modern errors, Liberalism, and Secularism. Among the major events of the seminary, we experienced the canonical visitation in November 1974, and the completely illegal suppression of the Society on May 6, 1975, which caused the departure of a dozen seminarians, who were lacking in courage.
4. During the same year you received the order of subdiaconate, the diaconate, and the priesthood! You were ordained a priest on December 8, 1975, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; can you explain these circumstances?
Since I had already studied some philosophy in Munich, after the Spirituality Year I was immediately enrolled in third-year seminary classes. At that time, seminary formation was still limited to five years of study in all. So, as a matter of course I received ordination to the subdiaconate on June 29, 1975, during the Holy Year.
A little earlier, the archbishop put me in charge of the organization of the German-language seminary in Weissbad, (Switzerland) which actually opened its doors on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A young, newly-ordained French priest was to be the rector. In mid-September, after a preparatory meeting, he said to the archbishop, “I cannot stay alone here; Fr. Schmidberger must come to help me.”
The next morning our founder admitted, “I slept poorly last night.” Then, turning towards me, he said, “stay here so that you will have at least two members of the Society. I will advance your ordination. You can complete your studies here and at the same time give a bit of instruction.”
So at the end of the retreat that started the academic year, he ordained me deacon in Weissbad on the feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then priest in Econe on December 8th. I was overjoyed at having received all three major orders during the Holy Year.
5. You worked along side Archbishop Lefebvre for many years; how did it happen that he entrusted the direction of the Society to you during his lifetime?
Together with Fr. Klaus Wodsack, I met Archbishop Lefebvre for the first time on March 12, 1972, Laetare Sunday, in Freiburg, Switzerland at the Society house there. We served his Mass and talked about our admission to the seminary in Econe. In 1976, he entrusted the direction of the German-language seminary to me, at first for two years in Weissbad, then for a year in Zaitzkofen. Later he named me head of the District of Germany and Austria, which in those early years was regarded as one unit.
A wise man who did not seek his own glorification, he was worried about the continuation of his work after his death and thought about a successor whom he could assist with his advice and support during the rest of his lifetime.
So, on his recommendation, the General Chapter in 1982 chose your humble servant to be Vicar General with right of succeeding him as the head of the Society. Then in 1983, on the feast of Sts Peter and Paul (June 29), on occasion of the priestly ordinations in Econe, he announced his decision to resign as leader of the Society and asked the members from then on to turn to his successor.
6. What are your memories of 1988?
Our revered founder spoke to me for the very first time about his idea of consecrating bishops in August 1983, after he had experienced problems with his health. Later, the idea was initially ruled out. The archbishop consulted with priests and lay people in 1985. In La Reja he met with Bishop de Castro Mayer, who urged him to first make a consecration in Campos (Brazil), but without success.
With the Assisi Meeting in 1986 and the thoroughly disappointing responses to our Dubia (questions) about religious liberty, we decided by common consent to make a final attempt to come to a peaceful resolution about our status. We would accept Rome’s proposal for a canonical visitation by Cardinal Gagnon and Msgr. Perl from November 8 to December 8, 1987. The archbishop saw that he could not have any confidence, despite the very positive report of this visit, in the people in Rome at that time.
Despite the pressure, the influence, and the pleas from all sides, he was prepared, for the good of the Church, to proceed with the consecrations on June 30. Indeed, a single thought guided him: without Catholic bishops there are no Catholic priests; without Catholic priests there is no true Holy Mass. For that reason, the episcopal candidates were selected by common consent between Archbishop Lefebvre and the Superior General.
7. After the consecrations in 1988, you were the Superior General of a little congregation having difficulties with Rome and having five bishops, including the founder! But its missionary expansion was unbelievable. How did you experience these contradictions?
When the archbishop relinquished control of the Society (in 1983), it had foundations in 12 countries: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Australia. Five more foundations were added in 1984: Mexico, Columbia, South Africa, Holland, and Portugal. The Society was established in Gabon, India, New Zealand, and Chile in 1986, and in Zimbabwe in 1987. Then in 1988 Holy Cross Seminary in Australia opened its doors.
After that, the expansion slowed noticeably, particularly in order to strengthen the work internally. It was not until 1993 that we would see the first foundation in Poland and the extension of the apostolate to the countries of Eastern Europe.
Priestly ordinations in those years were very numerous. The seminary in Econe was so crowded that it became necessary to subdivide it and to start a new seminary in Flavigny, France (in 1986).
Of course it was not easy to direct this work, because it was necessary to strengthen internal cohesiveness and at the same time respond to requests by the faithful throughout the world who were begging for us to come. With the grace of God, the Society succeeded rather well, not without many difficulties, trials, and crosses, but also with much joy and profound consolations.
8. Do you have any special memory from those years of missionary expansion?
One extremely sad incident was the major crisis which happened in the seminary in La Reja, Argentina, in the Districts of South America and Mexico in 1989. On one day, June 21st, half of the seminarians, led by the former rector, started mocking and denigrating the Society. On the other hand, the rebuilding of our apostolate in the United States, after the great crisis of 1983, was a profound joy—the marvelous fruit of tenacity, patience, and perseverance.
Everywhere people thanked us for our help in keeping the Catholic Faith and for opening anew the sources of sanctification in the celebration of the traditional Mass and in the distribution of the Sacraments as our forefathers had received them. Could there be any greater joy than to contribute to sustaining the Faith in the hearts of many families and celebrating the Holy Mass, according to its ancient and venerable rite in numerous countries? All this has left beautiful memories deeply engraved in my mind and always lifts my soul in gratitude and awe towards God.
December 8, 1984 was an absolutely unforgettable day when the Society, with all the superiors gathered in Econe, solemnly consecrated itself to the Mother of God, so that it would no longer be our work, but her work, and so that she might keep each one of its members staunchly faithful through all trials.
9. On the day of Archbishop Lefebvre’s burial, you had the difficult responsibility of giving the sermon. Now that you had become an orphan, to what extent did the archbishop continue to be your counselor, and how?
First, let me answer this way: shortly after the death of this great man, Cardinal Hyancinth Thiandoum asked me if there were any miracles attributed to Archbishop Lefebvre. I told him that the greatest miracle that he did every day, was the maintenance of the Society, as well as its continual expansion. The cardinal smiled and seemed satisfied with this answer.
In addition, our founding father left all of us a rich inheritance, especially this watchword: “Neither liberal, nor modernist, nor schismatic,” i.e., separated from Rome or falling into the sedevacantist error—but to remain Catholic, Roman Catholic. Furthermore, we simply follow his teaching, his spirituality, his numerous spiritual instructions, and his example so as to remain on the path he had charted. And most certainly, from his place in eternity, he supports in a special way those who bear the responsibility for the Society of St. Pius X, just as he did during his lifetime.
10. In 1994 Bishop Fellay was elected Superior General and you became an Assistant. Can you comment on that experience? Do you have a greater sense of all of Archbishop Lefebvre’s virtues when he let you direct his work?
The lesson to be learned from this election is as follows: the one who leads the Society is the one in whom his confreres place their trust, in accordance with the Statutes, regardless of whether he is a bishop or a simple priest.
The archbishop gave us a wonderful example of humility and a sense of the common good, whether for the work that he had founded or for the Church. After his resignation, he took second place at the table, leaving the first to the Superior General. In such moments, it is a matter of recalling Christ’s words, “when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10).
Finally, we have the obligation—or rather, we have the honor—of serving a cause that goes far beyond our little selves: God and His kingdom on earth. What a grace, what a privilege!
Memories and Encouragement
11. From the Society’s beginnings, you were closest to Archbishop Lefebvre in his dealings with Rome. The circumstances changed from Paul VI to John Paul II. For a time the archbishop had supporters, some allies, and even some friends. Then he looked for support, and he hoped for some response. He negotiated an agreement before yielding to evidence that he would not receive the needed help for Tradition. Then he consecrated the bishops. In your opinion, did he think that nothing else could be done with the Roman authorities and that only a miracle could convert them? Did he give you any instructions, advice for the future?
After the episcopal consecrations, Archbishop Lefebvre very probably counted on the possibility of new discussions with Rome. One day, with regard to the future direction of the Society and especially the forthcoming General Chapter in 1994, he told me in very precise terms:
If Rome approaches you with new contacts, it would be better for a bishop not to be Superior General, because it might be difficult for Roman officials to deal with an ‘excommunicated’ bishop. If that proves not to be the case, then a bishop also could take over the leadership of the Society."
He really expected that one day things would become normalized, would have to become normalized, especially given the facts: on the one hand is the decline and the rapid, continual breakdown of the official Church, on the other hand is the continual extension and growth of the Society.
Specifically in regard to such contacts, the archbishop gave us our marching orders: there can be no compromises on doctrine nor on the integrality of the Catholic Faith, but there could be flexibility in applying these principles. In other words: fortiter in re, suaviter in modo [unbending in the essentials, but gently in manner]. If the Roman officials, particularly the pope himself, calls us to lend a hand in the re-Christianization of society, then we can only be glad, while keeping watch over the conservation of our integrity, to remain what we are.
12. Catholic Tradition through the profession of the Faith and its many works is very much alive today. The torch has been passed on to the next generation. What encouragement can you offer to those who are tempted by weariness or bitterness? What would you say to the young people who are now benefiting from the treasures that were preserved at the cost of such great efforts?
There is only one solution: fight to the death Modernism and Liberalism in the heart of the Church with the weapons of the Spirit, i.e., with sound teaching, a profound spirituality based on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by a holy life. It is only when faith, liturgy, and life are completely in agreement and completely harmonious that our position is convincing, and, in the long run, will win the victory. Let us therefore continue to fight. God Himself, in His own good time, will give the victory in the Church and in society, not to us, but to Christ the King and Eternal High Priest.
Moreover even here there are small signs of visible progress, for instance the formal granting of jurisdiction to hear confessions to the priests of the Society during the Holy Year, regardless of the fact that we are giving this Sacrament validly and licitly on the basis of the state of necessity in the Church. To sum up, weariness and bitterness are both bad, very bad advisors, especially in today’s difficult situation.
13. Today you are in charge of the German-language seminary, of forming priests. Being a priest now for 40 years, what would you like to say to the seminarians?
We are administering a precious inheritance to which it is important to remain true—the inheritance of a true father who opened to us anew the treasures of the priestly anointing, the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the sources of sanctity.
Moreover, thanks to his long experience as a missionary, he has also shown us the way to rebuild Christendom with seminaries, parishes, schools, retreat houses, centers of faith and of Christian charity.
This key, this employing all the means that Our Lord Jesus Christ left us, is what is missing today in most of the bishops, even those of good will who see and recognize the disaster in the Church; especially persevering prayer, confidence in Divine Providence, and also penance.
14. This year you traveled to the United States to preach the retreats for the priests. You likewise visited several of our American chapels. What were your impressions? What message do you have for our American readers?
These two journeys to the United States of America allowed me to see that the apostolate there is flourishing. I can only congratulate my colleagues, thank them for their work, and encourage them to continue on this Catholic path. There is no other solution for the problems in the Church and in society.
I would like to thank the American faithful just as much for their energetic support and their help throughout these years. Their loyalty has paid off and borne much fruit. Keep working, dear faithful, with all your talents, all your abilities. With a clear mind and an ardent heart, continue to support this work, which is not our work, but properly that of Our Lady, of her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart.
With all our heart we thank you, Father. Along with our congratulations and thanks for these 40 years of faithful service, be assured of our prayers. Ad multos annos! We make our own this prayer offered by Archbishop Lefebvre on the day of your ordination:
Fidelity, if it is linked to the virtue of faith at its foundation, in its practice is linked to the virtue of fortitude. It is this fortitude, this gift of fortitude, that we ask the Holy Ghost to give to you in your priesthood."http://sspx.org/en/news-events/news/fr-schmidberger-recounts-40-years-of-priesthood-archbishop-lefebvre-1975-sspx