"Before I had no life. It was just sitting all day in a chair in one room. We weren’t allowed to go out or do anything. I was bored. When I came to L’Arche I was just so pleased to be there!" - Philippe Seux, a man with learning disabilities, who left an institution in Northern France in 1964 to become a founding member of L’Arche
L’Arche was founded by philosopher Jean Vanier, the son of a former Governor General of Canada. Now aged 84, he served during World War II with the Royal Navy and then with the Royal Canadian Navy. He resigned in 1950 to study philosophy and theology and went on to teach, encouraged by his friend Pere Thomas Phillipe a dominican priest. In 1964, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalised with learning disabilities and, in that year, took the radical step of inviting Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux to leave the institution where they lived to share their lives with him. Together they began L’Arche in small house in Trosly-Breuil, France.
Jean has been and is still an inspiring teacher. Many of his friends and students came to visit him and experience this radical new way of living. L'Arche in Trosley grew rapidly and in 1968 the first Community opened in Canada. Gradually more and more Communites began around the world founded by people inpsired by Jean's work. Jean remained the leader of Trosly-Breuil Community until 1981 and still lives there now. He also travels widely, visiting other L'Arche Communities, encouraging new projects and hosting lectures and retreats.
His awards include the French Legion of Honour, Companion of the Order of Canada, the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award 2001, and the International Paul VI Award. In November 2004, a CBC poll placed him number 12 in a list of Greatest Canadians. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Templeton Prize.
Jean Vanier and those who came to share his vision learned two important truths in those early years, which remain at the heart of L’Arche today.
- People with learning disabilities have a great deal to contribute to society.
- By living in intentional community with people with and without learning disabilities, living with diversity and difference, we open ourselves up to be challenged and grow.