Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche movement, dies aged 90

07 May 2019

John Morris/Templeton Prize

JEAN Vanier, the Canadian Roman Catholic philosopher who founded L’Arche, a network of communities for people with developmental disabilities, has died. He was 90.

A statement on the website of L’Arche International, posted on Tuesday morning, said: “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Jean Vanier. Jean passed away peacefully today Tuesday, May 7 at 2:10 a.m. in Paris surrounded by some relatives. In recent days, while remaining very present, he had quickly declined.

“We all know Jean’s place in the history of L’Arche and Faith and Light, and in the personal stories of a great many of us. Jean’s life has been one of exceptional fruitfulness. First and foremost we wish to give thanks for that.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said in a statement: “Jean Vanier lived the gospel in such a beautiful way that few who met him could fail to be caught up in it. I join countless people around the world in deep sorrow at his death, and great gratitude for his life.

“His generosity of spirit and Christian hospitality embraced the whole world — supremely those with learning difficulties. His L’Arche communities were places for the so-called weak to teach the self-perceived strong. . .

”In 2016, Jean led the Primates of the Anglican Communion in a time of prayer and reflection at Canterbury Cathedral. At the end of it, he invited us to wash each other’s feet. It was a moving experience for each of us — and a powerful reminder of the example that every disciple has been set by Jesus. He did the same at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.”

Vanier was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2015 for his contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension” (News, 13 March 2015).

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 was 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.

Obituary: Jean Vanier
From the archive: Salvation involves a profound change of attitude, says Jean Vanier

 

Full statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

“Jean Vanier lived the Gospel in such a beautiful way that few who met him could fail to be caught up in it. I join countless people around the world in deep sorrow at his death, and great gratitude for his life. His generosity of spirit and Christian hospitality embraced the whole world — supremely those with learning difficulties. His L’Arche communities were places for the so-called weak to teach the self-perceived strong.

His love for Christ overflowed into every relationship with abundant grace. To meet him was to love him, to be loved – and in turn to love all others he loved. Such a luminous goodness was combined with humour, wisdom and practicality. His goodness was also combined with learning; his lyrical commentary on St John’s Gospel is the most beautiful piece of writing.

I had the privilege of spending time with him on several occasions, and always came away with a sense that here was someone whose whole way of being spoke of the goodness of God.

In 2016, Jean led the Primates of the Anglican Communion in a time of prayer and reflection at Canterbury Cathedral. At the end of it, he invited us to wash each other’s feet. It was a moving experience for each of us - and a powerful reminder of the example that every disciple has been set by Jesus. He did the same at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

Jean’s life was shaped in response to that example. The L’Arche movement, where people with and without learning disabilities live and share in life together, is a legacy and gift that he leaves to the Church and the world. I pray that we will be challenged and inspired by his example for generations to come.

The heart of his profound discipleship was to foster communities that Jesus would have recognised: communities of love and fellowship where people carry each other’s burdens, accept each other’s gifts and limitations - and find belonging, joy and healing. In a world where individualism and competition can seem to have the upper hand, his vision, his teachings and his example were a powerful reminder that as human beings we are called to something infinitely more precious.

It is fitting that one who lived so thoroughly with and for others, and who helped so many find new life, should come face to face with Christ in Eastertide. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

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