JEAN VANIER, born September 10, 1928, is a Canadian Catholic philosopher turned theologian, and humanitarian. Beginning with a community in France, he is the founder of L'Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. Among the honors he has received are the French Legion of Honour in 2003 and the 2013 Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. Like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he is considered a saint within his lifetime
Jean is the son of Major-General Georges Vanier and his wife Pauline Vanier who were the subjects of a previous blog. As the saying goes, the apple does not fall far from the tree. When one studies the life of his parents, one can see how he was formed.
In early 1945, Jean, visiting Paris, where his father was Canadian Ambassador, went with his mother to assist survivors of concentration camps. Seeing the emaciated victims, their faces twisted with fear and anguish, was a profoundly moving experience for him, which he never forgot.
In 1950, feeling a strong inner spiritual calling to do “something else,” he resigned his naval commission. He then travelled to Paris to study as an undergraduate, eventually going on to complete a PhD in philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Paris, with a doctoral thesis on Aristotle. He subsequently taught philosophy at the University of Toronto but left academia in 1964 seeking more spiritual work.
|With Mother Teresa|
In 1964, through Jean's friendship with Father Thomas Philippe, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities. Jean invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they resided and live with him in Trosly-Breuil, France.
|With Catherine Doherty|
He expanded his efforts and established L'Arche at Trosly-Breuil, a community for people with disabilities to live with those who cared for them. He helped develop such communities in other places around the world. Until the late 1990s, Jean carried the responsibility for L'Arche in Trosly-Breuil in France, and for the International Federation of L'Arche. He stepped down to spend more time counseling, encouraging and accompanying the people who come to live in L'Arche as assistants to those with disabilities.
|With Pope John Paul II|
Jean still makes his home in the original L'Arche community of Trosly-Breuil, France. He travels widely, visiting other L'Arche communities, encouraging projects for new communities, and giving lectures and retreats.
Some years ago I visited the small farm of L'Arche in Tacoma and was most impressed by the giveness of the staff as well as the joy that permeated the residents. The world could take lessons from the Christ-like love that Jean Vanier has spread around the world.