L’Arche founder honoured for leading exemplary life of service, leadership, and reconciliation
“Jean Vanier turned a minimalist sense of caregiving and turned it into a movement that recognizes and appreciates the gifts of people with developmental disabilities,” Pauls says.
Born Canadian in Geneva, Switzerland, Vanier’s father had a diplomatic career that took the family to France and England, where Vanier spent his childhood. After serving in the British and Canadian navies, Vanier earned a PhD in philosophy.
He left academia in the 1960s and established the first L’Arche community in France after befriending two men with intellectual disabilities and inviting them to live with him in a small house he purchased.
Vanier had become distressed by the institutionalization, isolation, and loneliness of people with intellectual disabilities, and envisioned a place where they could live alongside those who come to assist them, and share life and daytime activities together in family-like settings.
“Essentially, they wanted a friend,” Vanier later recalled. “They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.”
Vanier called the house “L’Arche,” a French word for “the ark” in the biblical story of Noah and the flood. Within a couple of years, other homes were born. Today, L’Arche has more than 5,000 members in 147 communities on five continents.
Earlier this month, Vanier was awarded the 2015 Templeton Prize. Valued at $1.7 million USD, the Prize honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.
The group of 44 previous recipients include Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and the Dalai Lama.
Pauls points out that in addition to starting the L’Arche movement, Vanier is a beautiful writer with a strong understanding of theology.
“Out of the experience of living in a L’Arche community, he’s done incredible writing and helped society as a whole gain a new depth of care and understanding of people with developmental disabilities,” Pauls says.
Vanier now lives in the original L’Arche community in France. For reasons of age, he no longer travels. He is producing a short video to share with the community gathered for the event on April 8.
CMU will make a donation to L’Arche Winnipeg in honour of this award.
The event takes place at Victoria Inn (1808 Wellington Ave.). Doors open at 6:00 PM and dinner will be served at 6:30 PM.
April 10, 2015 – update
Jean Vanier’s message in response to the CMU PAX Award
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