Patrick Canac was baptized, but like so many others, drifted away from the Church over time. In recent months, however, the successful French businessman has had a change of heart, returning to the Catholic Church and even making a large donation for the construction of a new seminary in Avignon, France.

What caused the drastic change?

The witness of Fr. Jacques Hamel, the priest killed in August 2016 by ISIS jihadists as he was celebrating Mass in the small French town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen.

“I was brought up in the Christian faith. I was baptized and received all the sacraments of initiation, but then I drifted away from the practice of my faith for a long time,” Canac told CNA during a visit to Rome. “Last year, the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel in a church near Rouen really hit me,” he said. “For terror to make its way into that church reminded me of the darkest times of our civilization.” “I had an immediate, reflexive reaction as if they had killed my brother. That someone can go into a church today and kill the celebrant is just terrible, it's horrific, it's the devil going into a church.”

The French businessman had an instant reversion to the faith, realizing, “we all have Judeo-Christian roots” which “must be defended and saved.”


“It's the same problem they have the Middle East, where Christians are being killed,” he reflected. “And I had an inner reaction, telling myself, 'I'm a Christian and I've got to do something, put my talents to use'.”

Canac promptly made a large donation to build the new Redemptoris Mater seminary in Avignon. The project is gradually becoming a reality, and Pope Francis blessed the building's cornerstone at his Sept. 4 general audience in Saint Peter's Square.

“I think it's important for our Western countries — (including) France, of course — to be evangelized, that people be encouraged to return to the Church again. Because the Church is the cradle of our civilization,” Canac said. “I think of the first Christians, those who were pioneers, those missionaries and martyrs that spread the Gospel throughout the world. And that's why I have put my business success to work by helping with the building project for the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Avignon.”

He explained that seminary will help to re-evangelize Europe by forming the priests who will become modern-day missionaries, “priests that will evangelize people like me so they can return to the Church.” He continued: “After the murder of Fr. Hamel, I felt that our Judeo-Christian civilization is being threatened. Anything that will form people who will spread the Gospel, a Christian message of peace and love, must be helped.”

Last October, Pope Francis allowed the opening of Fr. Hamel’s beatification cause, waiving the normal five-year waiting period after his death. “I am in complete agreement with Pope Francis proposing him for beatification,” Canac said. “Fr. Jacques in a martyr. What I have learned about his past life before he was killed is that he was a true Christian, worthy to be a martyr. He tried to convince his murderers that they were doing evil. His attitude was extraordinary and exemplary for everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike.”  

This article was originally published by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.