Vibrant French-speaking parish provides the immigrant community a place to call “home” thanks to Together in Mission
Each Sunday, a Catholic church in Los Angeles draws in French-speaking Catholics living throughout the city, creating a home away from home for expatriates from France, Canada, Lebanon, and several African countries.
“The church is like a second family for them,” said Fr. Germán Sanchez of the 300 French-speaking families at St Sebastian Catholic Church. He notes that each Sunday many families commute to the West Los Angeles parish from as far as the San Fernando Valley and Los Feliz in order to worship in their own language.
Dongo Kouame, an expatriate of the Ivory Coast, a country in Western Africa, said this association of French-speaking Catholics was his grounding point when he arrived in Los Angeles almost sixteen years ago.
“As an African man I was kind of lost,” said Kouame. “So I found some Ivorian people here and they invited me to the church. They helped me to feel comfortable here.” He added, “Every Sunday after Mass we get together for a little breakfast and coffee.”
“It’s very important for them to have this place, because it is one of the places where they can speak their language. There are many things that you can do better in your own language: love, and pray,” Fr. Sanchez said.
Since many of the parishioners are struggling financially, the parish, which also serves the Spanish and English-speaking community, has been able to survive thanks to the donations from Together in Mission—thereby preserving the only church in Los Angeles to offer a French-speaking Mass each Sunday.
When Fr. Sanchez first took over the parish twelve years ago, the heavy debts from both the church and its school was about to force the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to sell the property. “We tried very hard to reduce the expenses and increase the income, and now with the help of Together in Mission, we are doing very well,” Fr. Sanchez said.
Fr. Sanchez can identify with his congregation’s expat status. Born in Columbia, Fr. Sanchez learned French while working in France as a medical doctor. He then made Los Angeles his home, learned English and began studying “spiritual medicine.” In 1990, he was ordained a priest.
“I am an immigrant also, and I don’t speak English very well,” said Sanchez. “They feel that I am like them, and I think it is very important for them to feel that the priest, the administrator of the parish, is like them and has the same struggles like them.”
The donated funds also allowed the parish to make necessary upgrades that included installing a new security system and improving the lighting and sound system.
Odile Ledoux-Tartaglia, a long-time parishioner and catechist, said the parish, which boasts three language communities, is united in their appreciation of Fr. Sanchez. “We all have something in common. We all have the same affection for our priest.”
As a French expatriate of twenty-five years, Ledoux-Tartaglia said finding this church community not only meant a place to pray in her mother tongue but also provided a way for her entire family to live their Catholic faith. “The timing was perfect because my son was able to learn the catechism. He was an altar boy—he had a true parish life.“
Her husband, a composer, also participated by playing the piano at Mass. “It became a whole family affair, which it should be when you go and worship,” said Ledoux-Tartaglia. “We really found a home, and we enjoy the fact that it is such a wonderful, diverse community.”