July 20, 2018

In France, Men’s Residence Hall Will Honor Adventist WWII Hero

J-P. Lemhann, Inter-European Division News, and Adventist Review

Adventist University of France, informally known as Collonges, is building a new residence hall for men. The inauguration is scheduled for September 2019. The new residence hall will bear the name of Jean Weidner, in memory of one of the great heroes of World War II.

Weidner, while a student at Adventist University of France during the war, created the Dutch-Paris network with several of his classmates. At great personal risk, these young people refused to give in to Nazi brutality and helped save the lives of more than 1,000 people.

“The educational goal of the school is that every student and visitor who comes to Collonges may be inspired by the values that Jean Weidner upheld—courage, altruism, and peaceful efforts for human rights and defense of freedom,” a spokesperson said.

The new building was long overdue. The original residence hall, “Les Horizons,” used as campus housing by many generations of students since 1965, no longer meets safety standards and needs to be replaced. The new residence hall will offer updated accommodation for students and visitors with 40 double rooms.

In addition to the new facilities, school leaders report that they are planning to construct a youth hostel in the new building’s basement. The hostel, designed to accommodate 40 to 50 visitors and cater to student groups, youth campers, and travelers, will allow many young people to discover Jean Weidner’s inspiring story from the place it started: Collonges and its surroundings, including Geneva, the United Nations headquarters, and the Alps.

School officials said that the youth hostel will have two dormitories, sanitary facilities, a meeting and activity room, an outdoor meeting area, an infirmary, and a children's room for group leaders. They explained, however, that it will be built only as additional funds become available.

“The Adventist University of France wishes to keep fulfilling its mission, which began nearly a century ago,” school leaders said. “This project will make it even more feasible.”

The Mission Roots of Adventist University of France

From the beginning of church work in Europe, Adventist pioneers said they wished to establish a missionary school in France. In 1921, the regional church purchased two old hotels, a farm, and a property of about 20 hectares (50 acres) in Collonges-sous-Salève, Haute Savoie, France.

Séminaire Adventiste du Salève, as it was first called, opened its doors on October 6, 1921, welcoming 76 students. At that time, the school offered students training to become a Bible teacher, a school teacher, a door-to-door book seller (literature evangelist), or an office worker. Farm work, gardening, woodworking, cooking courses, and sewing complemented the theoretical teaching in a classroom.

Now the university campus includes the School of Theology, a French language institute, the Human Sciences Institute, and a primary and secondary school, with a total enrollment of about 400 students.

Since its beginning in 1921, Adventist University of France has been known at the international level as a unique place within the European Adventist Church. It has served the French, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking nations across Europe, as well as trained missionaries and pastors for the African continent. Despite changing trends in education and church organization, the Collonges-sous-Salève school continues to fulfill its mission of offering high-quality Christian education.

In the past 10 years, school leaders report, the School of Theology led 75 pastors to earn a master’s degree. “Across Europe, through their teaching and writings, its professors have supported the schools of theology in Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Madagascar, and Haiti,” they said. “They have also served an estimated French-speaking Adventist population of 1.2 million.”