In 2004, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Latter-day Saints in France as part of a 10-day European tour during which the Copenhagen Denmark Temple was dedicated. During a meeting in Paris, the LDS Church News reported that he told the French Saints they were "worthy of the richest blessings of the Church."
"I wish I could announce that we could have a temple here, but we do not have a suitable place yet, in my judgment, to build it," President Hinckley said. "So we will continue to look. I don't know when it will be built, but I am confident that that we will have a temple for the French-speaking people of the church sometime in the future.
"And so, my brothers and sisters, I ask you to be patient for a time," he continued. "Sometime in the future a beautiful house of the Lord will grace this land."
"Sometime in the future" is closer now.
In a departure from recent tradition, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson today announced that the church "hopes" to build its first temple in France on property on the outskirts of Paris.
"Customarily, new temples are announced by the president of the church at one of the church's general conferences, after local government building approvals and property acquisition have been secured," church officials noted in a prepared statement. "Although the local government approval process for the French temple is still under way, French newspapers are already reporting church plans to build at Le Chesnay, near Versailles, and this prompted today's announcement."
Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the church has been working for many months with local officials.
"There have been several previous attempts to find a suitable site for a French temple, but none were finalized," Trotter said. "French members of the church wishing to visit a temple usually travel to those in neighboring European countries."
Trotter indicated that additional details on the new temple will be presented as they become available.
The long-awaited announcement of a temple is just the most recent development in the LDS Church's 162-year history in France. Although there is earlier mention of sending missionaries to France, the first mission of the LDS Church there was organized in 1849. As was the case in so many European missions, the earliest Mormon missionaries met with considerable resistance, and church growth was slow. At one point the mission was closed for several decades, and wasn't re-opened until 1912.
A unique chapter of LDS Church history in France was the so-called "Paris Art Mission." In 1890, five young artists — John Hafen, Lorus Pratt, John B. Fairbanks, Edwin Evans and Herman Haag — were called as "art missionaries" and sent to study at the Julian Academy in Paris, where they honed their skills in preparation for painting the vast murals in the Salt Lake Temple. That "missionary" effort was, by all accounts, eminently successful.
Church growth in France increased significantly after World War II. The first stake in France was organized in Paris in 1975. Twenty-one years later more than 28,000 members of the church in France were divided into seven stakes. Today there are more than 35,000 Latter-day Saints in France in nine stakes, 57 wards, 54 branches, two districts and two missions.
And now, in the very near future, there will be a temple to serve them all.