By an agreement with France the 31 of December 1786, the French living in Russia receive permission to open their churches: «a total freedom of confession is granted to French subjects in Russia, and by virtue of the perfect tolerance which is granted to all religions, they can freely perform the duties of their religion, celebrate the services according to their ritual, both in their houses and in their churches, without ever encountering any difficulty».
The day after the capture of the Bastille in Paris, The Vice-Consul of France in Moscow, Mr. Condert de Bosse, asks the Empress permission to build a French church in Moscow. The parish of Saint-Louis-des-Français was created by Catherine II in 1789 by a decree addressed to General Eropkine, Commander-in-Chief in Moscow and responsible for religious matters. The building permit was granted on 5 December 1789 on land in the heart of Moscow in the German suburb.
Until sufficient funds are raised to build the church, the French celebrate their services in the vice-consul’s house. It was not until the early 1830s that the present church was built. On November 24, 1835, the French church of Saint-Louis was consecrated by the vice-dean of Moscow, Monsignor Igor Motchoulevski, in presence of «all the Authorities of the city».
The parish includes a community of 2,700 Catholic Francophones in 1917.
After the October Revolution, most of the churches in Moscow are closed or destroyed. Monsignor Vidal, parish priest of Saint-Louis from 1913 to 1920, tells in his book («À Moscou durant le premier triennat») what was the revolution for the church, the parish priest and the parishioners.
The Church of Saint-Louis-des-Français remains the only place of the catholic cult in Moscow to be able to exercise the cult under the auspices of a very cumbersome neighbor– the Cheka (ancestor of KGB).
Since the forced departure of Monseigneur Vidal in 1922, Saint-Louis no longer has regular servants. In order to ensure Catholic worship in Moscow, there are no more than two priests comprising only Polish and Russian, and to provide for the spiritual needs of 25,000 to 30,000 Catholics, whether French, German or Italian Russian or Polish languages.
Several times, the Soviets want to close Saint-Louis in spite of the sometimes heroic devotion of the parishioners. After the decree on the seizure of precious goods in Russia for the relief of the hungry, in April 1922 Metropolitan Archbishop Antonin ordered the sacred vases of the Church of St. Louis to be removed. This ordinance finds no echo among the parishioners who collect the money necessary to avoid the sacrilege.
In the 1920s, the Church of Saint-Louis-des-Français became the living center of the Catholic Church throughout Russia. His parish priest helps priests of parishes and apostolic administrators who exercise their ministry in difficult conditions, without reviews or books, or theology. After the wave of diplomatic recognitions of 1924 and the arrival of a French priest, Saint-Louis imposed itself as the church of the diplomatic corps.
When Father Neveu arrived in Moscow in 1924, Stalin occupied the post of secretary-general of the party, and religious policy was his reserved domain. The « little father of the people » organizes blasphemous masquerades and supports the militant atheists
The Catholic Church in Russia is becoming more and more alone after the agreement between the Soviets and the Orthodox Metropolitan Serge on July 29, 1927. She can only rely on herself and goes underground. Many fathers and bishops were secretly consecrated in the church of Saint-Louis during the visits of the Jesuit Michel d’Herbigny, bishop clandestinely sent by Pope Pius XI.
The life of Monsignor Neveu, first Catholic bishop residing in Moscow, was a real suffering. He is constantly followed. Soon all the members of the clergy were deported, exiled, or shot. At the same time as the collectivization continues at the cost of ten million victims, the militia participates in raids, the expropriation of the last houses and rises rigged trials against the catholic priests and the faithful, like Mother Catherine Abrikossova or Camilla Krouchelnitskaya.
The great purges continue to martyr the priests and the faithful. After the departure of Father Jean de Matha Thomas, last parish priest of the Stalinist period, the parish office was taken by Soviet priests from the Baltic States, subject to the supervision of the Council for Religious Affairs until 1990.
Since the 1991 revolution, the church of Saint-Louis has been placed at the disposal of the French parish. A new parish priest, Father Bernard Le Leannec, was appointed there after the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in Russia. The church of Saint-Louis-des-Français is the symbol of Catholicism in Russia, of freedom and religious tolerance. It was visited successively by General de Gaulle in 1944 and December 3, 1964, Konrad Adenauer, Presidents Lech Walesa and Jacques Chirac, and other political and religious figures, such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.