L’Arche founder Jean Vanier dies aged 90

His communities for the disabled improved the lives of millions

Jean VanierJean Vanier. Photo: "Jean Vanier" by Kotukaran. Modified. [Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0]

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, has died in Paris, aged 90.

In a statement on L’Arche’s website announcing Vanier’s death, its leaders said: “Jean passed away peacefully today . . . In recent days, while remaining very present, he had declined quickly.

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

“In his last message, a few days ago, Jean said: ‘I am deeply peaceful and trustful. I’m not sure what the future will be but God is good and whatever happens it will be the best. I am happy and give thanks for everything. My deepest love to each one of you.

’” Speaking during a plenary meeting of the English and Welsh bishops in Spain, bishops’ conference Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “At our gathering in Valladolid, we heard with deep emotion of the death of Jean Vanier. For over half a century he has inspired an entirely new appreciation of the gift of people with learning disabilities and revealed the most profound heart of human community. We pray for him and his beloved Arche communities at this moment of loss. May he rest in peace.”

The son of a former Governor General of Canada, Georges Vanier, Jean Vanier was born in Geneva on September 10, 1928, where his father was en poste. He was educated at Dartmouth Naval College (now Britannia Royal Naval College) and served in the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy before moving to Paris to study philosophy. His first publication was his doctoral thesis on Aristotelian ethics.

In 1964, feeling the need to do something more meaningful with his life, Vanier bought a house in Trosly-Breuil, northern France, and founded L’Arche, a community for those with learning disabilities to live with their carers and be helped to grow to their full potential. L’Arche International now has 150 sites around the world.

Vanier co-founded Faith and Light with Marie-Hélène Mathieu in 1971. This is an international network of forums for those with learning disabilities, their friends and family. It now has more than 1,500 communities in 81 countries around the world.

Jean Vanier was the author of more than 30 books. Among his many honours, he was a Companion of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the Légion d’honneur and a winner of the Templeton Prize.

L’Arche’s leaders announced that his funeral will take place in his community at Trosly.

“This will be a private ceremony for his community, close friends and family and representatives of the Federation of L’Arche as well as of Faith and Light.” they said. “All those involved will receive a personal invitation, but the celebration will be filmed and broadcast live in order that each one of you can share this moment.”

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