“More than you can ask or imagine”: A Story from France

Baptism at Paroisse Etudiante de Toulouse Easter 2024 (Web)

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!”

Jacqueline Marie | May. 16, 2024

In 2018, young French priest Father Antoine interned with Divine Renovation and Saint Benedict Parish for a year. Still in seminary and interested in parish renewal, his Bishop had encouraged him to go to Halifax, Canada and learn from the team.

He didn’t speak English when he arrived – yet the DR team felt the Spirit leading the connection. Father Antoine recalls Dan O’Rouke, president of Divine Renovation, calling him and saying: “We prayed with the team… you should come.”

Ordained in 2023, Father Antoine has hit the ground running in his first year of priesthood. As the Assistant Priest of the Student Parish in Toulouse – a parish without territory focused on the student population – he is ministering to the largest concentration of college students in France (150,000 students within the city).

Father Antoine at his ordination in June 2023 (Web)

“We have five students asking for baptism a week."

The parish is unique, yet the overarching principles of DR are at work. The Senior Leadership Team is made up of the priests, families involved in the parish, young people and umbrellas out over smaller leadership teams in each of the four fraternities in the parish. 

The primacy of evangelization is evident. Alpha and small groups carve out a path of discipleship for the rapidly growing church. They currently have 110 students in RCIA with 20 baptisms last Easter. Next Easter, they expect exponentially more. Father Antoine states, “we have five students asking for baptism a week [sic] right now.” Yes – five a week.

Father Antoine (left) with one of the Student Fraternities in the Parish (Web)

In the month of Pentecost, it is inspiring to see the uncontainable power of the Holy Spirit at work in this young parish. It is reminiscent of the flourishing of the early Church in Acts 2 where “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (47). Much like the first apostles, parishioners in Toulouse are evangelizing on the street, on the campuses, to their friends, and all those they meet.

One such example happened on the eighth of December (during a procession for the Immaculate Conception) when a parishioner asked a young woman on the street about what she believed. A couple months later, the woman showed up in the church asking to pray – she is now attending Mass.

This is not a rare occurrence. Father Antoine finds that his Gen Z parishioners are open about sharing their faith. They are often coming from complete secularism – so when they are transformed by the good news of the gospel it feels natural to share it with others. Father Antoine feels, “our nature is profoundly religious” – the youth who have been raised with no faith are now hungry for it and when they encounter it want to share it. He says, “the grace of the Lord is working, and I think we are living in a beautiful moment and God is doing something in the hearts of people.”

Father Antoine finds people approach him on the street when they see his collar often calling him “sir.” (Secularization even erasing the knowledge to call a priest father). One such encounter was with a young man named Fabio. “Sir,” he called out to Father Antoine, “baptize me.” Fabio now is in RCIA and volunteers at Mass as a sound engineer. Previously, Fabio was a young adult detached from community and faith; now he knows everybody in the parish. In fact, Fabio tells everybody he meets he is getting baptized, and every Sunday brings someone new to Mass.

Every year, a large percentage of the student parish population matriculates or transitions to another location. The parish has a vision of these students being sent out as missionary disciples – continuing evangelization and renewal wherever they move to. It is a movement of renewal that is transforming individuals who then can multiply out to bring renewal to parishes and cities across France.