Marcel Lefebvre was born in 1905. In 1923 he entered the French Seminary in Rome. Having completed his doctorate in philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, he was ordained a priest on September 21, 1929. After one year spent as curate in a working-class suburb of Lille (France), he joined the Holy Ghost Fathers, a missionary congregation. In 1932 he was sent as a missionary to Gabon. Later he was appointed Rector of the scholasticate in Mortain (France) in 1945. Consecrated a bishop on September 18, 1947, he was appointed Apostolic Vicar of Dakar as well as Apostolic Delegate for French-speaking Black Africa and Madagascar in 1948. In 1955 he became Archbishop of Dakar. In 1960 he was appointed Assistant to the Pontifical Throne and member of the Preparatory Commission for the Council.
In 1962, after having been appointed Bishop of Tulle (France) and consultant of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, he was elected Superior General of his religious congregation, which at the time numbered over 5,000 members. In 1968 he resigned from his post during the Extraordinary Chapter called to implement aggiornamento. He was then 63 years old.
At the repeated requests of seminarians, in 1970 he founded the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, with the approval of the Bishop of Fribourg (Switzerland). The seminary was moved to Ecône and received a canonical visitation in 1974. Scandalized by the remarks made by the Roman visitators in matters of faith, he composed a declaration dated November 21, 1974. The document, widely publicized by the media, led to the suppression of the Society with no regard for canonical procedures. Archbishop Lefebvre considered it illegal, and never took any account of it.
In July 1976 Archbishop Lefebvre was suspended a divinis because he had ordained priests even though Rome had forbidden him to do so. Years of controversies with Rome followed. Given the attitude of the Holy See, which promised to give him a successor but without providing him with sufficient guarantees, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops on June 30, 1988. Invoking the grave state of necessity from which the Church was suffering, he carried out what he called “Operation Survival of Tradition” to safeguard the Catholic priesthood and the sacraments, while assigning neither jurisdiction nor canonical mission to the bishops that he consecrated. Together with Bishop de Castro Mayer and the four newly consecrated bishops, he was officially excommunicated, which he deemed unjust and invalid, like the preceding censures.
Archbishop Lefebvre spent his final years in Ecône until his death on March 25, 1991. There his body was laid to rest. According to his request, the following words were engraved on his tombstone: “Tradidi quod et accepi, I handed on what I received.”