Focus on Family: France


Sr Rachel Hohmann gives an insight into family life in France.


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Sr Rachel Hohmann.


I come from the Eastern France and I am currently a member of the OLA community in Colmar. Here I live with three other Sisters.

Colmar is located in the north-east of France, only a few kilometres from the great River Rhine which forms the border with Germany. We lie just to the south of the city of Strasbourg. We live in a beautiful region!

I am responsible for the spiritual animation of the OLA Sisters in a nearby nursing home where there are 14 Sisters among the 52 residents.

A lot of emphasis is placed upon the family here in France. I am a member of two families: my blood family and my OLA family! I had one brother who died 11 years ago.

The natural families have three basic functions: to create, to protect and to educate. In this natural family there may be strong links between siblings. However, the brothers and sisters create their own families, sometimes they may be far away with their spouses or due to their profession. The links thus become distant due to preoccupations about their own children.

When we enter the OLA family, we form a body, in order to follow a common charism, a project of the Congregation and live a specific missionary ideal. We help to foster life around us. We know that our life together is the result of grace since we do not choose our companions but rather we are called together by the Word of God.

For me, family means: warmth, acceptance of our diversities, or our otherness, sharing, welcoming, kindness and pride. There is enthusiasm in seeing children growing-up and prospering. One feels loved for oneself.

For us, the family in the strict sense is composed of the father, mother and children. We then include the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.


A map of France. The OLA Community in Colmar is denoted by the red marker. Source: Google Maps.


Today, as people live longer and are retired at age 60, grandparents are young! Thus the family is restructured so that children are often kept and even educated by the grandparents. Their role becomes more important. It sometimes happens that a couple may become jealous of grandparents and they decide to keep the children themselves!

Large families in France with 5 – 7 children tend to be the more well - off families or migrant families also.

When I was young everything happened in the family, like a city within a city. We felt safe, protected, loved, and stimulated.

There has been a big rise in the number of single parent families in the last number of decades. The number of single parent families has doubled since the beginning of the 1980s, reaching 2.4 million in 2007. Today 6.3 million are now living as single parent families. The right to visit or accommodate the parent who does not have exclusive custody, can pose a problem when the child stays with the other parent. Today one child in five of separated parents never sees his/her father.

In France, we have different regions from East to West, from North to South. Each region has its own way of life which has a big influence on the family: housing, food, lifestyle; life together can be either outward looking or more closed in on itself. In southern France, people are more outward looking while in the north of France, for example, the house is closed looking out on a yard or garden. In the South, the houses have a terrace where people sit in the evenings. In the North, the roof is sloping and tiled or slated according to the region.


A view of a typical house in the south of France.



A typical house in the north of France.


There is a multitude of menus according to the region and people only eat this food. The dishes often date back to ancestral customs when France was mainly agricultural. Several Regions retain their dialects and their traditional celebrations wearing traditional dress.

Christmas is definitely the most important moment for the French family. In the East of France, from the beginning of December, the mother of the family makes small cakes or cookies: there are 12 – 20 different kinds using a variety of ingredients. In the South, there are 12 different kinds of desert for Christmas. Parties are centred on the fir tree which is lit up. Multiple gifts, already prepared, are placed under the tree much to the delight of children and adults. Everything happens in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

Families take their holidays together. The better-off go to the Winter Sports regions and /or to a secondary residence by the sea for the summer. They share their joys and sorrows, sharing moments of suffering and loneliness, knowing that they will be supported by the family. Today we tend to celebrate ‘the extended family’ during the summer. (This means that it is the cousins, uncles and aunts etc. who perhaps have not met for years or who meet for the first time, come together). Families, in the broad meaning of the term, come together for a whole day of meeting. It is a Feast, it is Joy! Everyone brings a dish to share with others. These gatherings can have from 100 to 2000 people depending on the organisers.

I think the World Meeting of Families will be a very important event. I pray that it will give new breathing space or some inspiration to families who are struggling.  It is important to encourage families and show them the vital role they play in a society – we cannot take the family for granted.


- Sr Rachel Hohmann



  • Click here to read more articles from the Focus on Family series.
  • Click here to visit the website of the OLA Province of France.