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Canadian Mennonite University to present Jean Vanier with inaugural CMU PAX Award

L’Arche founder honoured for leading exemplary life of service, leadership, and reconciliation

Canadian Mennonite University will present its inaugural CMU PAX Award to Jean Vanier.
Vanier is founder of L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. CMU President Cheryl Pauls will present the award at CMU’s 2015 Celebration Banquet on Wednesday, April 8.

“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.

The CMU PAX Award was created to honour people who lead exemplary lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society.

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 2015 Celebration Banquet is an event of story and song in support of CMU. Those interested in attending can RSVP by emailing or calling 204-487-3300.

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

About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU’s Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences, and social sciences, as well as graduate degrees in theology, ministry, peacebuilding and collaborative development, and an MBA. CMU has over about 900 full-time equivalent students, including those enrolled in degree programs at the Shaftesbury and Menno Simons College campuses and in its Outtatown certificate program.

For information about CMU, visit

For additional information, please contact:

Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing; 204.487.3300 Ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB  R3P 2N2