The roof at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is gone. The spire has burned to the ground. Even a small segment of its vault ceiling collapsed in the catastrophic fire that engulfed the landmark Parisian cathedral on April 15.
But amid the extensive fire, water, and smoke damage, the cathedral, built in the 12th and 13th centuries by scores of masons and craftsmen long forgotten to history, is still standing, much like the greater Catholic Church.
“You can argue that for all the scandals, all the difficulties, the crisis of vocations that the Church is facing in the West, the Church is still there, and as Catholics we need to continue to add our stones to this edifice,” said Jean-Hugues Monier, a French native who grew up in Paris.
Monier, 53, who is a member of Legatus’ New York City Chapter, noted how millions of Catholics the world over held vigil and prayed that the iconic cathedral would be saved as Parisian firefighters battled the flames for hours.
Through the night and into the next day, the faithful gathered along the Seine River to pray and sing hymns. Catholics took to social media to share their own photos of Notre Dame Cathedral and express their sadness and solidarity with the French people who worshipped in one of Christendom’s most beloved churches.
“It seems everybody has a story that is linked to Notre Dame,” said Monier, a partner with the Corporate Finance & Strategy practice at McKinsey & Company in New York. When he lived in Paris, he often attended Mass and other religious ceremonies at the cathedral.
“Especially for young Parisians, the silhouette of Notre Dame is an integral part of the city,” Monier said.
PARISIAN-NATIVE LEGATE INVOLVED IN REBUILDING
Monier, who has been honored by the French government as a knight of the National Order of Merit for his active contributions to FrancoAmerican friendship and economic collaboration, will have a role in the rebuilding of the beloved cathedral. He is on the U.S. board of the The Friends of Notre Dame of Paris, a nonprofit which is gathering pledges for the restoration.
The Friends of Notre Dame of Paris had already been raising funds for years to help pay for renovation work. The cathedral, which is owned by the French government, had fallen into a state of disrepair long before the fire.
“When a cathedral is old like that one, you need to have repairs,” Monier said.
Rebuilding Notre Dame to its former glory is expected to require several years and upwards of $1 billion to complete.
“This will be a complex rebuilding,” Monier said. “It will be a couple of years before anyone is even able to physically enter the cathedral because of the damage.”
TEAMING WITH BUSINESS LEADERS WORLDWIDE
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, several prominent business leaders around the world and others were reported as having pledged hundreds of millions of dollars and euros to rebuild the cathedral. Monier said sustaining that level of commitment will be important.
“This is like running a marathon,” he said. “You not only need pledges in the beginning, but you need to keep that going.”
Monier said he hopes to establish an endowment that will pay for necessary ongoing repairs and maintenance to the 850-year-old structure, which was already undergoing extensive renovations when the fire broke out. Investigators are treating the fire as accidental.
“Every time you do reconstructions and renovations to these older buildings, you run the risk of fire,” Monier said. “I hope we can stop the next one from happening.”
MIRACLES, PRAYERS ABOUNDED AMID THE CRISIS
Miraculously, the cathedral’s two pipe organs and its three 13th-century rose windows sustained little or no damage. Many religious works of art and relics, including the Crown of Thorns, were moved to safety early on in the blaze. One firefighter was reported as suffering serious injuries, but there were no fatalities.
As he watched live news reports of the fire, Monier, who is a Knight of Malta, spoke with friends and associates in France and prayed for the cathedral.
“It’s interesting in this day and age, when we are bombarded by the 24- hour news media cycle, that this hit a little bit of a pause button, where people were reflecting on the beauty that was being destroyed,” Monier said.
The fire broke out on Monday of Holy Week, which granted another layer of spiritual significance for Catholics, especially when the first pictures from the cathedral’s burned-out interior showed sunlight reflecting off a golden cross at the altar.
“Everybody was fearing it was going to be complete devastation inside,” Monier said. “But in reality, and I still find this absolutely shocking, the structure of Our Lady of Notre Dame was kept intact.
“For me, I connected that to our faith,” Monier said. “That after fire, after death, there is a resurrection.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.