Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier

Photo by Templeton Prize/John Morrison

“Our community life is beautiful and intense, a source of life for everyone. People with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.” —Jean Vanier

Considered a man of deep compassion and a humble prophet in the struggle to “become more fully human,” Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche.

Born in Switzerland the son of a Canadian diplomat, Vanier served in the British and Canadian Royal Navies as a young man. In 1950, after leaving the armed services, Vanier returned to his studies, eventually receiving a Doctorate in Philosophy for his thesis on Aristotle. The focus of the research was on happiness, which Jean defined then and now, “loving and being loved.” Vanier went on to teach philosophy at the University of Toronto.

In 1964, through the influence of his friendship with a Catholic priest, Father Thomas Philippe, Vanier invited two men with disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they lived and to share their lives with him in a house in Trosly-Breuil, France.

There, in that small home in Trosly-Breuil, Vanier’s initial urge to “do something for” Raphael and Philippe grew to become a commitment to “being with” and “friend to” these two men. With that shift in heart and consciousness, a core belief of L’Arche emerged: that strength is revealed through weakness and human vulnerability, which given room to grow in trust, creates community. And, Vanier understood, the desire to love and to be loved is something every person longs to experience.

Vanier has received numerous awards, including the French Legion of Honor, Companion of the Order of Canada, Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award, the Blessed are the Peacemakers Award from the Chicago Catholic Theological Union, and the 2015 Templeton Prize exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.

Vanier still makes his home in the original community of L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil, and often gives lectures and retreats there.

For more information on the life, work, and spirituality of Jean Vanier, please visit the Jean Vanier website.