This parish priest serves as a volunteer firefighter on the side, doing both jobs with courage and dedication.
From the Joué-lès-Tours fire station to his parish of Saint Marc, in Indre-et-Loire (west-central France), it’s only a short step for Pierre Fouquier, parochial vicar and volunteer fireman for the past three years. Between regular shifts, his on-call week and practicing maneuvers at the fire station, he devotes nearly 75 hours a month to his volunteer commitment.
You have to go back to childhood to see where his vocation takes root.
“I must have been about 10 years old when the firefighting profession attracted me,” Fr. Fouquier begins. In his village of Saint-Épain, it was with eyes full of admiration that the boy watched the firefighters marching in parades or in commemoration ceremonies. “The red trucks, the uniform: all that attracted me.”
Around the same time, the beauty of a second vocation struck him. “My mother told me that at the age of 7 I had already said that I wanted to become a priest,” he shares with a laugh. “I grew up in a Catholic family, which is soil that makes vocations germinate early. Then it came and went as it does for other confreres.”
He met priests who were faithful and joyful in their ministry and sensed a call that he discerned more and more clearly. These things led him to the seminary after training in civil engineering.
Living the Church in the world
During his first two years of seminary, the man who joined the young firefighters brigade at the age of 15 continued his commitment. “The successive bishops were very benevolent. And thanks to the adapted schedules I was able to be a volunteer fireman for a year and a half in the villages nearby.”
While the young man is familiar with firehouse life, his journey in the seminary intrigued his teammates. “It sparked some intense conversations!”
They questioned him about celibacy or the usefulness of priests, but these conversations especially allowed them to share about the meaning of the priest’s mission.
They had in mind the cliché of the priest alone in a dark church, as in the movie The Exorcist. I was very surprised that these images came back, but many people only have that! And it made me question the way the Church is lived in the world.
He was ordained a priest in 2018. As soon as he puts on his uniform, Pierre becomes a firefighter like any other. But sometimes while on the job, he evokes his vocation as a priest.
Some people know the difference between a professional firefighter and a volunteer firefighter. And in those moments they ask me about what I do on the side, when I’m not on duty.
Under the uniform, the heart of the priest
The motto of the firefighters (“courage and dedication”) sums up the intensity with which Fr. Fouquier lives his two commitments. Without ever losing sight of the gift of himself during his firefighting missions, he is careful to maintain his stability and balance. “I pay attention to fraternal life, I participate in meetings in my deanery, and I keep in touch with other young priests,” he says.
Although he devotes Sundays to his sole mission as a priest, there have been times when a firefighting job has prevented him from switching seamlessly from one activity to another.
Recently, I was at a fire scene for six or seven hours and by the time I got home, showered and ready, I was late for weekday Mass. I notified the sacristan and my parishioners welcomed me with great concern.
Fr. Fouquier’s two vocations inform and shape the man he is today. He sees a different side of life as a firefighter than as a priest.
When you receive a priest, you tidy up your house to welcome him. As a firefighter, I go to places and I meet people in situations of great precariousness, difficult situations.
His priestly vocation also makes him a better firefighter. “Most of the firefighters’ jobs are social interventions. Being a firefighter is also a job of listening,” he explains. He can then rely on the “human training” provided at the seminary.
His commitment as a firefighter brings him into contact with different realities. As a result, he meets “people who might never set foot in a church.”
The joys and labors of this busy daily life, Fr. Pierre offers to God. “I enjoy carrying the world as I celebrate services. I see my limitations well and I give to the Lord all that I cannot carry myself.”
If he joins a new parish in the fall, he plans to keep his commitment at the firehouse. There, with the hundred or so firefighters who make up the fire station, he will continue to provide assistance. “There’s a proactive attitude among firefighters that inspires me a lot. We don’t focus on what we can’t do alone, but on what we can do together.”