Hundred-year-old trees, gilded statues, a greenhouse with ancient charm and flowerbeds sleeping in winter. It is necessary to survey the immense park of Esvière, nestled in the city center of Angers, to measure all the thickness of the places. On this small hill, a first monastery was founded there in the 5th century. The buildings have been looted, destroyed or burned down several times but always rebuilt, such as the Notre-Dame-sous-Terre chapel, bombarded in 1944 then rebuilt as it was in the 15th century.
Settled here since 1873, the Franciscan Sisters of Sainte-Marie-des-Anges have deployed massively outside Europe and mainly in India. They chose to transfer their property to Fondacio in 2019, asking this movement of lay Christians to continue to announce the Gospel “by remaining attentive to the signs of the times”.
These nuns “have clearly told us, ‘don’t copy us, but invent a way of being that sticks to the reality of the world to bring you closer to your contemporaries’ “, specifies Pascal Michel, director of Esvière, which brings together on the same site the premises of Fondacio, a training institute (IFF-Europe) and about fifty inhabitants with varied profiles (nuns, students, tenants in financial fragility , young professionals, family…).
Organic farming and permaculture
Everyone is already beginning to forge ties during meals or convivial evenings. “What’s great is that we arrived from the Paris region last August and immediately felt like we had a big family around us”, confides Laure Guiblin, 42, who chose with her husband to settle with their 3 children in Esvière to experience another relationship to the world, closer to people and nature. Around this shared habitat, Fondacio wishes to hatch “a third place”dedicated to integral ecology.
Work is underway to create a training and healing center (with 80 accommodations) and reception and catering areas open to the city, planned for autumn 2023. The chapel will also be renovated and the IFF -Europe expanded from 130 to 220 students. These buildings will overlook 1.5 hectare green spaces completely redesigned by the end of 2024: open-air amphitheater, space of silence, organic vegetable garden, garden cultivated in permaculture, pond…
“We want to make it a place of production, experimentation, meetings and training”describes Benoît Perier, co-manager of Fondacio in France, stressing that a retired farmer, pioneer of organic farming in Anjou, is one of the volunteers involved in the adventure.
University of Change
Fondacio has already collected 6.2 million euros in private donations (individuals, foundations, congregations, etc.) to finance both the work and part of the salaries of the 18 permanent staff on the site, then paid for by a sponsorship system. Eventually, the operation of the premises will be financed by the activities offered there. They will be of different orders.
On the one hand, the healing center will offer times for meditation and prayer, retreats, spiritual accompaniment or sessions to deepen faith. The other, “the university of change” will be aimed at both young people and economic players wishing to equip themselves with all the dimensions of integral ecology. “We consider it as a peaceful relationship with oneself, with others, with the Earth and with God”summarizes Edwige de Champs, co-responsible for the training and resourcing center.
The place will also offer “a citizen awakening incubator”, to support project leaders (associations, companies, etc.). “We don’t want to remain flabbergasted in the face of the climate challenge, but develop more positive stories”, adds Daphnée Poupart-Lafarge, head of the University of Change, already in contact with many climate actors. A prefiguration of this proposal will be held next May during the Ascension weekend: a hundred young people will meet at Esvière to “think about their place in the ecological transition”.
L’Esvière, 1,500 years of history
fifth century. The disciples of Saint-Martin founded a monastery.
9th century. The monastery is destroyed by the Normans.
1047. Foundation of the Benedictine priory of Saint-Sauveur.
1205. The priory is destroyed by Jean sans Terre.
1429. The priory is rebuilt.
1789. The priory becomes national property during the Revolution.
1873. Installation of the Franciscan congregation of Sainte-Marie-des-Anges.
2005. Arrival of Fondacio.
2012. Establishment of IFF-Europe.
2019. Transfer of ownership to Fondacio (gift valued at 12 million euros).
End of 2023. Opening of the training and resourcing centre, reception and catering.
End of 2024. Renovation of the chapel, extension of the IFF-Europe and landscaped outdoor spaces
Beginning of 2025. Official inauguration of the third place.