RIP Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, who ministered to people with disabilities

© Templeton Prize, John Morrison
Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier died on Tuesday, May 7th.

After celebrating his 90th birthday last September, Jean Vanier, founder of both L’Arche and the Faith and Light movement, comprised of networks of communities which house and advocate for the intellectually disabled, passed away this morning at the age of 90.

Vanier’s health weakened considerably during these last weeks, so he had to be hospitalized at the palliative treatment center Maison Médicale Jeanne Garnier, in Paris.

“Jean has left us at the end of a long, exceptionally fruitful life. The Trosly community, the whole of L’Arche, Faith and Light, many other movements, and thousands of people have been nourished by his word and his message,” announced Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates-Carney, who are both in charge of L’Arche International.

“The secret is always in the descent”

The son of Canadian parents, Jean Vanier was born on September 10, 1928 in Geneva, Switzerland while his parents were there on a diplomatic mission. When he was 13 years old, during WWII, he joined the British Royal Navy and served for eight years. In 1945, while his father was Canada’s ambassador to France and his mother a delegate of the Red Cross International, he actively participated in assisting those who survived concentration camps. These events left a profound impression in him.

After leaving the Navy, Vanier studied philosophy and got his doctorate in 1962. From 1964, after discovering the terrible living conditions of psychiatric asylum patients had to endure, he began to live with a small group of people with intellectual disabilities. That was the moment L’Arche was born: a network of communities where both people with and without disabilities live together.

All his life, Jean Vanier tried to live as close to the Gospel as possible, and never ceased defending the value of fragility. “The secret is always in descending, not ascending. This means accepting that we are fragile,” he said in an interview with Aleteia on September 16.

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