American Donations Lead Fundraising Drive to Fix Notre Dame Cathedral

June 18, 2019 Updated: June 18, 2019

American donors appear to be leading part of the fundraising drive to repair the fire-damaged Notre Dame cathedral, religious and business officials revealed in Paris on June 15.

Proceeds collected by the Notre Dame charitable foundations have mostly come from American and French individuals and not the French billionaire philanthropists who promised to donate hundreds of millions to restore the country’s national monument.

Friends of Notre Dame de Paris estimates that 90 percent of the proceeds came from American donors.

“Americans are very generous toward Notre Dame and the monument is very loved in America,” Friends of Notre Dame de Paris President Michel Picaud told The Associated Press after returning from a fundraising trip to New York. “Six out of our 11 board members are residents in the United States.”

The rest of the money collected by the sister Notre Dame Foundation came from minor French donors. The French government has also contributed funding.

Notre Dame can now pay a total of 3.6 million euros ($4 million) to up to 150 of its staff since the cathedral’s roof burst into flames on April 15, destroying the roof and causing the 856-year-old spire to collapse.

French billionaires, who together pledged almost $1 billion toward the cost of restoration work but still have not yet paid a penny, are now being encouraged to put their money where their mouth is and pay up.

Total and Artemis, a subsidiary of Kering that also owns luxury brands Gucci and Saint Laurent, each pledged 100 million euros ($112 million). The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation of the L’Oréal fortune and LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, each pledged 200 million euros ($224 million). None of the companies have yet paid, according to AP.

A spokesperson from the cathedral said these potential donors were waiting to see how the reconstruction plans progressed and were fighting over contracts instead of simply making donations.

“They want to know what exactly their money is being spent on and, if they agree to it before they hand it over, and not just to pay employees’ salaries,” Notre Dame senior press official Andre Finot told AP. “The big donors haven’t paid, not a cent.”

Some of the donors are believed to have competed to outbid each other in the days following the disaster, sparking criticism their generous acts seemed to be more like displays of vanity than simply preserving France’s cultural heritage.

Pinault Collection admitted the Pinault family had not paid anything to the Notre Dame foundations for the restoration work due to delayed contracts.

“We are willing to pay, provided it is requested in a contractual framework,” Pinault Collection spokesman Jean-Jacques Aillagon said.

LVMH and the Arnault family confirmed they are signing an agreement with Notre Dame’s foundations and “payments will be made as the work progresses.”

The Heritage Foundation confirmed Total has also not paid yet and many donors are waiting to see the plans and if they align with their corporate vision before transferring the money.

“It’s a voluntary donation, so the companies are waiting for the government’s vision to see what precisely they want to fund,” foundation Director General Celia Verot said. “How the funds will be used by the state is the big question.”

One of the cathedral’s chief guides and architecture experts believes wealthy French donors have not paid because they do not know whether its structures are fundamentally sound.

Architectural experts are still using digital models to try to establish how much damage the fire did to the cathedral’s 13th-century stone.

“It doesn’t matter that the big donors haven’t yet paid because the choices about the spire and the major architectural decisions will happen probably late in 2020,” Notre Dame chief guide Olivier de Challus said. “That’s when the large sums of money will be required.”

Workers have toiled around the clock for weeks and the cathedral has had to rely on charity foundations to help pay for the first phase of reconstruction.

Two dedicated workers at the cathedral have faced the mammoth task of removing 300 tons of toxic lead dust from the building that was released into the air during the blaze, posing a serious health hazard. Up to 148 more workers have been cleaning around the edifice and restoring it, according to Finot.

Paris’s regional health agency confirmed high levels of lead are now present in nearby administrative buildings and the soil of the Ile de la Cite, the island where the cathedral is located. The agency recommended all pregnant women and children under 7 living nearby should undergo blood tests for lead poisoning.

Workers are building a wooden walkway to remove 250 tons of burned scaffolding that was installed before the fire for Notre Dame’s spire restoration project. The existing plastic protection will need to be replaced with a bigger, more robust umbrella roof before the roof and vault can be rebuilt.

Finot said this work will take months and the Friends of Notre Dame and other foundations will help pay for it.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised the work would end in five years but many French architects describe this time frame as overly ambitious. Former army chief Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin has been appointed by Macron to oversee the reconstruction.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.