Notre Dame burns, affects SJS French community


Edward Aviles

French students visited the cathedral on their trip to Paris in 2016.

SJ Lasley, Assignments Editor

Following the unexpected burning of Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral on April 15, members of the SJS community reflected on their own connections to the famous building.

French teacher Jacqueline Vest grew up in France and took regular trips to Paris with her parents. As an adult, she often took her own children to the capital to visit Notre Dame. Vest was driving home from a doctor’s appointment when she heard the news on the radio.

“I could not believe it and rushed home to watch the TV,” Vest said. “I was stunned by the pictures of the horrific fire.”

From 2001 to 2011, Vest directed a summer program that led American high school students throughout different regions of France. After spending time in Toulouse and the Pyrenees, the trip culminated with a long stay in Paris. Each year, the students would take group photos in front of the cathedral, which is the most visited site in the city.

“Notre Dame is a landmark of the history of my country and my Catholic heritage,” Vest said. “I feel that it links me also to those students who were so enthusiastic when they visited Paris with me. I hope they still have fond memories, as I do.”

Linda Carswell, a former English teacher who now lives in Paris, heard of the fire at 7 p.m. She saw billowing smoke coming from the direction of the cathedral and heard sirens roaring down the streets. Locals and tourists gathered in the streets near her apartment. At the cathedral, firemen created what Carswell describes as a “human chain” to protect the artifacts located inside.


Used with permission from Linda Carswell
Former English teacher Linda Carswell, who currently lives in Paris, poses in front of the cathedral.

Carswell lives only 15 minutes away from Notre Dame and visits the cathedral frequently. In October 2018, she attended “Dame de Coeur,” a light show projected onto the face of the cathedral.

“I was so moved by the beauty of the show that tears were rolling down my face at times,” Carswell said.  “It’s true that being in Notre Dame creates a feeling of awe, a sense of self as a small pinpoint in the universe yet somehow connected to a timeless story of humanity.”

Members of the French Club also mourned the loss of the iconic landmark by wearing their club’s shirts to school the following day while others posted reminiscent pictures of their trips to the cathedral on Instagram.

One group of seniors, in particular, recalled their experiences at Notre Dame while on a trip to Paris in 2016, chaperoned by French teacher Shelley Stein.

“I was so sad when I first heard the news about Notre Dame,” senior Juliana Aviles, who attended the Paris trip, said. “I started thinking about the history of the building and what it means to so many people, and I was devastated that such an influential building had burned so unexpectedly.”