The current building that houses St. Joseph’s Church was completed in May of 1987, but this English speaking Roman Catholic Parish has been rooted to the same ground since 1863 when the Congregation of the Passion established three priests to minister in Paris. From its founding to the present, the history of St. Joseph’s Church is rich and varied, both in terms of the community it has gathered and served, and in terms of the social and political events that have come with being a church at the heart of a major European capital.
A year after its consecration, Saint Joseph’s future was at risk, for in the summer of 1870 the Franco-Prussian War plunged France into the chaos that would culminate in the siege of Paris and eventually lead in 1871 to the carnage of civil war and the Paris Commune, a movement so fervently anti-clerical that the Archbishop of Paris was murdered in its wake. Grim as conditions were, St. Joseph’s survived to become, by the turn of the century, a well-established church playing a vital role in the spiritual life of the city’s English-speaking Christian community.
In October of 1900, the existence of St. Joseph’s was in jeopardy once again when the government threatened confiscation of church and rectory subject to a tax of 20,000 francs — a sum the priests themselves could not possibly pay. Although a friend and benefactor of the church saved St. Joseph’s by paying the tax, this reprieve was short-lived; for in 1905, under the Law of Associations, St. Joseph’s and its rectory were expelled. Fortunately, the property was repurchased by the Passionists, who were permitted to return to their mission with the proviso that they not wear religious garb or any other marks of affiliation with a religious order.
Thus, when the First World War erupted, the priests of St. Joseph’s were at hand to minister to the English-speaking soldiers of the Allied Forces. Life in Europe undeniably changed after the war and there was an influx of Americans coming to experience Paris or stay on as expatriates; and a new wave of young Irish women arriving to be employed as nannies or to teach English. Thus, the post-war era saw St. Joseph’s become the spiritual home for an increasingly diverse population of anglophone Catholics.
The Second World War and the Occupation of France and her capital obviously had deep repercussions on life at St. Joseph’s. That the church continued to function at all is undoubtedly due to the fact that the Passionists replaced St. Joseph’s English priests with Irish Passionists, who were protected to some extent by their country’s neutrality. The community –priests and parishioners –held together in no small measure due to the faithful support of a number of French parishioners. Thus when peace came St. Joseph’s was ready to take on the challenge of reconstruction.
Challenges have not been wanting in the post-war period. The early years were hard ones for the residents of Paris, with few material comforts and strict rationing. St. Joseph’s was all the more important as a place of spiritual nourishment, both in the sacraments, and in the cup of tea and shared loaf of bread that the priests would bring out for visitors.
With the steady rise of affluence, in the 1950’s and 60’s, and the explosive growth of the English-speaking Catholics, it was not easy bringing together national groups who might have seen themselves as constituting distinct communities. Indeed, the Vatican II reforms, with their emphasis on the Parish as a living community, posed a particular challenge for St. Joseph’s in view of the cultural diversity and geographic separation of its members. Today’s parish is comprised of more than 40 nationalities and headed by Father Aidan Troy since 2008. Father Aidan reveals his inner Irishness in FUSAC’s speed interview.
- Where do you come from? My previous parish was in Belfast N-Ireland
- What drew you to the priesthood? A wish to help people as best I could
- What is the most satisfying thing about being Father Aidan? Making some little difference in people’s lives
- What is the oddest request a parishoner has made? To play role of a priest in a movie
- What did/do you parents do? Father worked in the railway; Mother led a shop
- What is your chief characteristic? Irishness
- Your favorite occupation other than work: Jogging
- Your motto « I did it my way »
- Favorite drink? whiskey
- Favorite quote? But for Grace of God, there go I
- Favorite movie? Educating Rita
- Favorite neighborhood to walk in Paris? Parc Monceau
- What is your favorite building in Paris? Notre Dame
- The most significant author you have read ? Charles Dickens
- What music puts you in a good mood? Abba
- An animal that fascinates you? The horse
- What was your happiest moment when you were a child? School Holidays
- Where is the place that you want to go the most? China
- What was the first museum you ever visited? The National Gallery in Dublin
- What painting from a museum would you like to have chez vous? Mona Lisa
- How do you stay abreast of news? Internet
- In which other century would you have liked to live? 1st C.
- A historic place that stops you in your tracks: Rome
- A one-to-one conversation with a person from history: Plato
- If you were to send a postcard from Paris what image would you choose? Arc de Triomphe
- Who incarnates the UK? Winston Churchill
- How do you use the social networks Twitter, Facebook? Too much
- What is the first thing you do in the morning? Wake up
- If you were…
a film? James Bond
an article of clothing? A scarf
a song? When Irish eyes are smiling
a cosmetic? After shave
a shoe? Expensive
mode of transportation? Velib
a drink? Vintage port
What is your next project? Retirement, I hope!