Leaders of Local French Cultural Institutions React to “Heartbreaking” Losses at Notre Dame Cathedral

Published : Tuesday, April 16, 2019 | 12:53 PM

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The partial destruction by fire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has drawn strong reactions around the world and in Pasadena at two noted French cultural institutions.

Leaders of The Alliance Française of Pasadena, one of the group’s oldest chapters in the world, and the Lycée International School of Pasadena are helping their communities come to terms with the tragedy.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Emma Franks, executive director of Alliance Française in Pasadena. “I was afraid it was totally destroyed.”

Franks said the cathedral which has been standing for 800 years, is a symbol of Paris and its devastation makes those of French culture feel displaced.

“This is heartbreaking because Notre Dame is a part of history,” she said. “It’s our culture. Notre Dame is part of French culture even for people who are not religious. It’s our history and our culture and it’s so sacred.”

The fire, which is under investigation, ripped through the cathedral, but was eventually contained by hundreds of French firefighters. Built mostly of stone in 1163 in French gothic architecture style, significant portions of the church are made from ancient oak. The cathedral had been undergoing reconstruction.

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to work with the people to completely rebuild the remarkable structure within five years. French entities are leading a fundraising effort that is already receiving support, including a $100,000 pledge from Indiana’s University of Notre Dame.

The Pasadena French organizations are taking a cautious approach in discussing the fire and the destruction it caused, as, like many around the world, people in their communities are so broken-hearted.

“So many don’t want to speak about it because they are so hurt,” Franks said. “One teacher was close to crying because this is shocking.”

She said the fire has, unfortunately, pointed out that the saying “Paris will always be Paris” may not be true after all.

Philippe Detzen, the Pasadena Campus Director of Lycée International School of Los Angeles, said he is hopeful.

“Notre Dame has a special place in the heart of every French person,” said Detzen said. “It would have been a disaster if the whole building burned down. Notre Dame touches something very deep in every French person.”

The Lycée Pasadena campus has been open here for 13 years.

Every year the International School’s fifth graders go on a trip to Paris and they visit Notre Dame, considered one of the world’s top tourism attractions and a must-see for visitors to the city. The students just returned from the most recent annual trip a few weeks ago.

“We study about Notre Dame before going every year,” Detzen said. “The teachers work with the students on the story of Quasimodo and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’” he said.

Detzen said it was one of the parents who messaged him that Notre Dame was burning. The families of the students at the school are mostly American, he said.

Detzen said he has faith in President Macron who assured people around the world that the cathedral would be rebuilt. It is up to Detzen and the teachers to reassure the students. In turn, the students will talk to their parents, Detzen said.

“We are on break now but when the students return we will talk,” Detzen said. “The students know quite a bit and it is the students who are telling the parents about Notre Dame.”

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