Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 64,058,000; Members, 34,906; Stakes, 9; Wards, 58; Branches, 55; Missions, 2; Districts, 2; Percent LDS, .05, or one in 1,835; Europe Area.
In western Europe, France has a population that speaks French, and includes minorities who speak Breton, Alsatian, German, Flemish, Italian, Basque, and Catalan. The population of France is mostly Roman Catholic.
The first mention of France in the history of the Church is a report of a council meeting held at Nauvoo, Illinois, 6 May 1844, when it was voted to send Almon W. Babbit there on a mission. For reasons unknown, Babbitt never went. In a general conference of the British Mission held in Manchester, England on 14 August 1848, it was resolved that William Howells of Wales would be sent to France and Brittany to preach the gospel.
The French Mission was organized on 18 June 1849, and a month later, Howells arrived in Le Havre, France. He experienced some frustration, but on 30 July 1849, baptized Augustus Saint d’Anna, a “single, intelligent young man.” A month later Howells traveled to St. Malo, where, later that same year, he baptized a man named Pebble and a young woman named Anna Browse. Browse had been ill for years and her friends feared that her baptism in the icy waters of the bay would end her life, but her illness left after she emerged from the waters and her health was restored.
In February 1850, Howells traveled to Boulogne and distributed tracts with greater success. The Boulogne-sur-Mer Branch was organized with six members on 6 April 1850. On 18 June of the same year Elder John Taylor of the Quorum of the Twelve and Curtis E. Bolton arrived in Boulogne, accompanied by Howells. John Pack and two Englishmen called by Taylor to assist in the work joined them a few days later. Over a period of a few weeks, Taylor held several public meetings and debates with little success before traveling to Paris.
While in Paris, the missionaries devoted their time to translating Mormon literature into French and writing new tracts. They continued to preach the gospel, but due to the difficulty with the language, the work progressed slowly. However, by November 1850 there were a few people desiring baptism, so on 8 December 1850 a branch was organized in Paris.
In December 1851, John Taylor appointed Curtis E. Bolton as president of the French Mission. By this time there had been four branches established: Paris, Le Grande Luce, Le Havre and Boulogne-sur-Mer. Opposition and government restrictions due to the unsettled state of political affairs under Napoleon III slowed progress. The government prohibited the gathering of any more than 20 people, making it difficult for the missionaries to hold meetings. Church members were also prohibited from publishing materials expounding Mormon doctrine. John Taylor was forced to leave the country when he defied the printing ban in 1851 with a tract entitled, “The Kingdom of God.” In 1852, the French translation of the Book of Mormon was completed, but members were blocked by law from distributing it.
The work continued very slowly over the next several years. In 1859, Louis Adolphe Bertrand, a member of the original Paris Branch, was called to preside over the mission, but in 1864, Betrand left France, bound for Utah. The Emperor would not allow Mormonism in France and the mission was officially closed with Bertrand’s departure. After the mission’s closure, several attempts were made to re-establish missionaries in the country, but none met with lasting success until the French Mission was re-organized in 1912.
In spite of the mission closure, in 1890 a unique group of Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in France. In the spring of that year John Hafen wrote a letter to the First Presidency requesting that he and two other aspiring artists be allowed to go to Paris to pursue their training in the arts. They wished to gain the skill necessary to paint the murals inside the nearly completed Salt Lake Temple. Their request was granted and on 3 June 1890 Hafen, Lorus Pratt, and John B. Fairbanks were called as “art missionaries.” They arrived in Paris on 24 July of that year and were later joined by Edwin Evans and Herman Haag. They studied at the Julian Academy. They returned home in 1892 and immediately made plans to complete the murals in the garden and world rooms of the temple. The murals were completed, just in time for the dedication of the temple on 6 April 1893.
A meeting was held in Lille on 27 June 1909 by the missionaries of the French Conference. It was attended by approximately 50 members. It was the first meeting held by the Church within French boundaries since the religious expulsion of the 1860s.
On 15 October 1912, the French Mission was re-organized with Edgar Brossard as president. The mission, much larger in area this time, included French-speaking sections in western Switzerland and southern Belgium. Only two years later, with the threat of World War I, all missionaries were withdrawn. After the war in November of 1919, Elder George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve visited France to meet with the Saints. Not until 24 February 1924 was the French Mission formally re-organized with Russell H. Blood as president. It was headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
Missionaries worked hard to build the Church’s image by getting involved in the communities. Some helped by singing in groups while others played on successful basketball teams. Two new branches were established in Lille and Blois on 5 August 1930. The Mission headquarters were moved from Geneva to Paris on 1 October of that year, and then from Paris to Liege, Belgium, in 1936 because the majority of the converts were being found in the Belgian District. From 1932 to 1936, branch after branch was closed because fewer missionaries could serve due to the Great Depression. Golden L. Woolf, mission president at the time, made an appeal to local members to share the gospel in their own country. Many volunteered their time to keep the work progressing. Members were encouraged by an increase in the arrival of American missionaries in late 1936 and a visit by President Heber J. Grant in June of 1937.
World War II Years
In 1939, at the onset of World War II, missionaries and mission President Joseph E. Evans were evacuated. This left a local leader, Leon Fargier, as the sole, active priesthood holder in France. With the approval of priesthood leaders, Fargier almost single-handedly conducted the affairs of the Church in France during the war. On foot or bicycle he traveled around the country to members’ homes, often across enemy lines, to administer the sacrament, bless, baptize, confirm, confer the priesthood and simply administer to the needs of the Saints.
After World War II, missionary worked resumed. Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve arrived in April of 1946 to tour the French Mission and assess the condition of the members and the country. One month later, James L. Barker arrived to re-open the mission and re-establish its headquarters in Paris. Over the next several years, missionaries continued to arrive as did thousands of cases of food, clothing and bedding. These supplies were shipped from Salt Lake City to support members and missionaries suffering because of the economic crisis following the war. Many branches were re-opened, while new ones were organized, including Belfort, Toulouse, Lille, and Cannes.
On 13 July 1952, a mission-wide conference was held and was attended by President David O. McKay, who was en route to Switzerland to announce a temple in that country. Three months later, on 9 October 1952, the Church was granted status by the French Government as “Une Association Etranger” (A Foreign Society).
As of 1 January 1947, when missionary work resumed after the war, there were 13 active branches in the mission, 754 members and 13 missionaries.
The late 1950s proved to be especially challenging for the French Mission. It was soon discovered that a group of missionaries was studying questionable doctrine rather than teaching the fundamental elements of the gospel. A growing number of missionaries began to foster beliefs contrary to the teachings of the Church. When mission President Milton Christensen became aware of the apostasy within the mission, he notified the First Presidency. Interviews were held with the missionaries involved to discover their convictions. Nine were excommunicated and left the mission.
In the years following the excommunications, Edgar Brossard served as mission president and under his leadership, the mission reached the high point of its history. In January of 1960, in anticipation of the new year, mission leadership set a goal of 400 baptisms, more than twice that of prior years. By June the goal had been surpassed and was revised to 800. Total baptisms reached more than 900 that year.
In June 1960, a building project was announced for the construction of chapels in Europe through the use of “labor missionaries.” The Bordeaux Chapel was dedicated by Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve on 10 December 1965. Less than a year later, on 23 October 1966, the first Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in the Paris area was dedicated. In the next decade, land was purchased and chapels were completed in Sceaux, Nogent, Nantes, Paris, Epinay, Rennes, Brest, Le Mans and Angouleme.
In 1961, the French-East Mission, later named the Switzerland Geneva Mission was organized. It covered eastern France and the French- Speaking portion of Switzerland. It was followed in 1963 by the formation of the Franco-Belgian Mission, later named the Belgium Brussels Mission. This mission covered northern Franch and the French-speaking portion of Belgium. In 1970, the name of the French Mission was changed to the France Mission, and in 1974 to the France Paris Mission. The France Toulouse Mission was created from portions of the France Paris and Switzerland Geneva Missions.
The Paris France Stake, the first stake in France, was created 16 November 1975. There were 28,454 members organized into seven stakes by 1996. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke to 4,200 members at an area conference in Paris in 1976.
The France Bordeaux Mission was created in 1989, and the France Marseille Mission was created 1 July 1991. They were later consolidated into the France Toulouse and France Paris Missions in 2001.
President Gordon B. Hinckley visited and spoke in Versailles and Paris on 4 June 1998, and again on 28 May 2004, as part of a European tour. Speaking of temples, he encouraged the French members to be patient, and told them that they were “worthy of the richest blessings of the Church” and was confident that “sometime in the future a beautiful house of the Lord [would] grace this land.”
By 2002, membership reached 31,971; and 32,353 in 2003.
The Paris France Temple is the 156th operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (LDS Church) and the 1st temple completed in Metropolitan France. This Temple graces the streets of Le Chesnay in the western suburbs of Paris, just a stone's throw away from the vast grounds of the Palace of Versailles where French royalty once resided. A marble reproduction of Thorvaldsen's Christus statue is a focal point of the beautifully landscaped grounds, accented by water features on the north and south ends of the property. Guests are welcomed at a visitors' center that features a three-dimensional cut-away model of the temple.
The Paris France Temple was the twelfth temple built in Europe and the first built in Metropolitan France. The first temple built in Overseas France was the Papeete Tahiti Temple (1983).
The official announcement of the Paris France Temple was issued as a news release from Church headquarters on July 15, 2011, because French newspapers were already circulating reports of the temple plans, which had been submitted to the local government for approval. The temple announcement was reaffirmed by President Thomas S. Monson in the following General Conference on October 1, 2011. After announcing several new temples, he stated: "In addition, we're moving forward on our plans for a temple to be built in Paris, France."
Sources: “Moments in History,” Church News, 31 July 1971; “The Church in Europe,” Ensign, August 1973; J. Malan Heslop. “Church’s Second Generation Growth is Strong in France,” Church News, 1 December 1973; John L. Hart, “New Missions Are Evidence of Church’s Dynamic Growth,” Church News, 25 February 1989; Alain Marie, “Leon Fargier: His Faith Wouldn’t Go Underground,” Ensign, September 1991; “New Areas Created in Asia, Europe,” Church News, 7 September 1991; “You Are Worthy of the Richest Blessings: A Temple Will be Built in France, Says President Hinckley” Church News, 5 June 2004; William Howell, Millennial Star, 1 September 1849, William Howell, Millennial Star, 1 October 1849; William Howell, Millennial Star, 1 January 1850; William Howell, Millennial Star, 15 March 1850; William Howell, Millennial Star, 15 May 1850; Curtis E. Bolton, Journal, Church Archives; France Paris Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Gary Ray Chard, A History of the French Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1850-1960, 1965; Linda Jones Gibb, “The Paris Art Mission,” Pioneer, January/February 1994.