Jean Vanier

From Academic Kids

Jean Vanier (born September 10, 1928) is the founder of L'Arche, an international ecumenical organisation that creates communities with people with learning disabilities.

Considered as one of today’s greatest figures of compassion, Jean Vanier was born in Canada, the son of the late Governor General of the country, Georges Vanier. He served in both the British and the Canadian Royal Navies, and in 1950 left the Navy to pursue his studies in France where he received a Doctorate in Philosophy from “L’Institut Catholique de Paris” for his thesis on Aristotle.

In 1964, through his friendship with a Dominican priest, Father Thomas Philippe, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities. Jean Vanier felt called by God and encouraged by Father Thomas to invite two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they resided and share their lives with him in a real home in Trosly-Breuil, France. The home was named L'Arche, which translates to the Ark, a symbol of refuge, of life, of hope and of covenant with God and humanity. From this original community in France, 120 other communities have been founded throughout the world in Europe, Africa, Asia, Central America, North and South America.

Although L'Arche communities are found in many different cultures, they share a common philosophy and approach. People with developmental disabilities and those who assist them; live and work together to create home by recognizing one another’s unique value and gifts. In 1968, inspired by his belief of how community can change the world, Jean Vanier went on to found Faith and Sharing, annual retreats that take place all over the world, where people from all walks of life gather and share the words of the Gospel. In 1971, Vanier founded Faith and Light, along with Marie Hélène Mathieu. Faith and Light groups, composed of people with developmental disabilities, their parents and friends, meet regularly to discuss hopes and difficulties and to pray together. Until 1981, Jean Vanier carried the responsibility for L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil in France and for the International Federation of L’Arche. He stepped down from these responsibilities, allowing others to assume these roles. He spends much of his time today counseling, encouraging and accompanying people who come to live in L’Arche as Assistants to people with developmental disabilities. Vanier still makes his home in the original community of Trosly-Breuil, France. He also travels greatly, visiting other L’Arche communities, encouraging projects for new communities, and giving lectures and retreats. Jean Vanier has demonstrated a lifetime of commitment to those who have been marginalized in our world, the lonely and the dispossessed.

He recognizes that what emerges from human brokenness is a God whose love is without limitation. In recognition of his exceptional contribution and dedication to the poor, Jean Vanier was awarded the Paul VI International Prize for his lay ministry work. In recognizing Jean’s work, Pope John-Paul II stated, “Over the past 30 years L’Arche has grown to become a dynamic and providential sign of the civilization of love.” In the year 2000 Vanier was named one of the top 10 people of the year 2000 by Inside The Vatican magazine. Jean Vanier was also one of the recipients of the 2000 Dignitas Humana Award from Saint John's University in Minnesota.

Jean Vanier is also known as a prolific writer who has inspired millions around the world. Some of his publications include:

  • In Weakness, Strength
  • Tears of Silence
  • Eruption to Hope
  • Be Not Afraid
  • Followers of Jesus
  • Community and Growth
  • I Meet Jesus
  • I Walk with Jesus
  • Man and Woman, He Made Them
  • Images of Love, Words of Hope
  • A Door of Hope
  • The Poor at the Heart of L’Arche
  • From Brokenness to Community
  • The Broken Body
  • Jesus, The Gift of Love
  • An Ark for the Poor: The Story of L’Arche
  • The Heart of L’Arche: A Spirituality for Every Day
  • The Scandal of Service
  • Becoming Human
  • Made for Happiness
  • Seeing Beyond Depression


“Living in community I discovered who I was. I discovered also that the truth will set me free, and so there's the gradual realization about what it means to be human. To be human is that capacity to love which is the phenomenal reality that we can give life to people; we can transform people by our attentiveness, by our love, and they can transform us. It is a whole question of giving life and receiving life, but also to discover how broken we are.” -Jean Vanierde:Jean Vanier


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