As part of the 31 for 21 challenge, every Wednesday during October I am celebrating an unreasonable Canadian who has inspired me with their courage and vision—through their writing or their advocacy— for a world where all are welcome. Today I celebrate Jean Vanier.
Jean Vanier was so unreasonable, in 1964 he dared to welcome two men from an institution for people with intellectual disabilities to live with him in a little home he called “L'Arche,” after Noah's ark, in Trosly France. This small act of faith and daring was the beginning of L’Arche, a movement that grew quickly as this new way of sharing life together in community with people who would otherwise be shut away in institutions attracted many young people. And Vanier himself began traveling and speaking about his own life-changing experience of coming to know people with developmental disabilities. Today, there are 130 L'Arche communities in 30 countries on six continents.
Born in 1928 in Switzerland, where his father was serving as a Canadian diplomat, he is the son of Governor-General Georges Vanier and Pauline Vanier, hence he is a Canadian and we are proud to claim him! Maclean’s magazine (September 4, 2000, p. 33) writes about Vanier: For nearly four decades, Jean Vanier has travelled the world fashioning a network of homes where people with developmental disabilities, volunteers and a sprinkling of staff live together in community. “Those we lock away and think worthless,” he says, “have the power to teach and even to heal us. We are all ‘broken’ in some way,” he believes. . . . “When you start living with people with disabilities,” he says, “you begin to discover a whole lot of things about yourself.” He learned that to “be human is to be bonded together, each with our own weaknesses and strengths, because we need each other.” Tall and stooped, Vanier radiates the strength of a man who has fought his own inner battles and surfaced with peace.
Vanier has written many books, including