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New parents rally town to restore and reactivate local church

messein, église, patrimoine

Avec l'accord de Jean-Louis et Marie-Lorraine

Cécile Séveirac - published on 02/26/24

Jean-Louis and Marie-Lorraine decided to spruce up their village church, which had fallen into disrepair. They plan to have their yet-unborn child baptized there in March.

Sometimes all it takes is a good idea and a few people of good will to get something done. Jean-Louis and his wife Marie-Lorraine have provided just that. This couple in their thirties had been living in the village of Messein (in northeastern France) for two years when they decided to take the destiny of the small-town church of Sts. Peter and Paul into their own hands.

The church was a sight to behold: with humidity penetrating on all sides, its walls were decrepit, its benches moldy, the steeple full of pigeon droppings… Neglected, the church had hardly been used at all anymore except to host the occasional funeral Mass when a village local passed away.

Jean-Louis and Marie-Lorraine are both practicing Catholics. He’s a civil servant, and she’s a nurse. They live just a few yards from the building and decided in early January to restore it to its former glory.

messein, église, couple
Jean-Louis and Marie-Lorraine

The young couple are preparing to welcome their first child in February. The idea of baptizing him in March in the renovated church soon came to them. “Seeing God’s house so neglected seemed really sad,” the couple told Aleteia. “We decided to go and see the parish priest and the mayor and ask them for permission to take care of some minor maintenance work ourselves.” (The mayor’s permission was required because in France all churches built before 1905 belong to the government.)

Moisture, the main enemy

The initiative was immediately encouraged by both the pastor and the mayor. “Seeing local residents mobilize for a project like this is rare enough to be appreciated,” says the commune’s mayor, Daniel Lagrange. “The church hasn’t been in use for a good 10 years, and we don’t have many churchgoers anymore. It’s a good thing that some people want to get involved, and I’m delighted about that. We’re going to try to turn a dying church back into a living place,” he explains. The local government is financing all the materials needed to renovate the interior: paint, plaster, cleaning products…

messein, église, patrimoine

In the end, it took more than just a lick of paint to bring the church back to life. “We started by removing four cubic yards of pigeon droppings from the bell tower. The walls need to be repainted, and we have a carpenter working on the pews to make them usable again,” explains Jean-Louis.

messein, église, patrimoine

A number of villagers, mostly retired, have been helping out since the work began. Others are friends of the couple, like Farid, a plasterer, who is taking care of repairing the walls. “The wooden ceiling structure is also in a sorry state, so we’re going to have to treat it for worms first,” he continues. “We don’t know much about it. We’re not craftsmen for the most part, but with a bit of good will, we can do something good,” says Jean-Louis.

messein, église, patrimoine

Bringing the church back to life

“I’m in awe,” says Fr. Gérard Nduwimana, the parish priest at Visitation Parish. “I think it shows a great spirit of hope to want to bring this church back to life.” On May 11, a Mass will be celebrated to mark the completion of the work.

messein, église, patrimoine

As for the mayor of Messein, he wants to organize an open house after the baptism of the newborn child, scheduled for March 9. “I’m also thinking about other uses that might be compatible,” he says, “such as concerts with musical instruments or choirs.”

messein, église, patrimoine

Jean-Louis and Marie-Lorraine are also looking to the future. “We have the keys now, so we’re going to try to open the church more often. The idea would already be to allow the return of early Masses. For the moment, we’re concentrating on the work, but we’re going to find a way to really bring this church back to life.”

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