THE Canadian philosopher Jean Vanier, who founded a network of
communities for people with developmental disabilities, has been
awarded the Templeton Prize.
Mr Vanier established the worldwide L'Arche movement of homes,
where people with and without disabilities live together. On
Wednesday, it was announced that he had won the 2015 Templeton
Prize, valued at £1.1 million, for his contribution to "affirming
life's spiritual dimension". The prize will be awarded on 18 May at
St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
Mr Vanier, aged 86, is a Roman Catholic. He briefly served in
both the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy before abandoning a
military life in favour of academic philosophy in Paris and then
Toronto. He is the author of more than 30 books.
It was in 1964, in France, during visits to psychiatric
hospitals and institutions, that the idea for L'Arche was born. Mr
Vanier invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave
their institutions and share their lives with him in a household in
Trosly-Breuil, France. He named their home "L'Arche".
Gradually, other communities spread across the world: there are
now 146, including 11 in Britain.
The Templeton Prize was established in 1972 by Sir John
Templeton, to reward those who pursue the "big questions of human
purpose and ultimate reality". The value of the prize is set
continually to exceed that of the Nobel prizes, emphasising Sir
John's view that spiritual discoveries were more valuable than
Mr Vanier said that the secret of L'Arche was that it
transformed the lives of those without disabilities as much as
those with them. "People who came to do good discovered that the
people with disabilities are doing them good: they are becoming
"And so, when those who are moving up to the top through
education meet those who are at the bottom of society . . . There's
a spark, and both groups change."
Archbishop Welby described L'Arche communities as turning
"society's assumptions about the strong and the weak upside
"Those the world considers 'weak', through their disabilities,
are those who bring hope and strength. . . . Those who are 'strong'
discover they need the 'weak'. This is nothing less than the
Kingdom of heaven come to earth, as Jesus prayed it would."