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Heroes you should know: Jean Vanier

 “Individualistic material progress and the desire to gain prestige by coming out on top have taken over from the sense of fellowship, compassion and community. Now people live more or less on their own in a small house, jealously guarding their goods and planning to acquire more, with a notice on the gate that says, 'Beware of the Dog.”  -Jean Vanier Jean Vanier (born September 10, 1928) is a philosopher, a theologian, a humanitarian, and the founder of L'Arche an international federation of group homes where people with developmental challenges live together in community with those whose disabilities are more hidden. Born in Geneva, where his father Georges (the 19th Governor General of Canada) was on diplomatic service, Vanier grew up in Canada. Although he was too young to become a soldier during World War II, Vanier did serve in the Red Cross alongside his mother in Paris.  Completing his studies at the Royal Naval college in England, Vanier received his commission as an officer in 1945 and began his naval career.  But despite his early success, Jean felt a greater call to serve God outside the military.  In 1950, he resigned from the Navy, and travelled to Paris to study philosophy and theology at the Institut Catholique.  There he would earn a Ph.D. in Philosophy and meet Father Thomas Philippe, a Dominican priest and professor at the Institut who would become Vanier’s greatest mentor.  Having published his dissertation, Vanier returned to Canada in 1963 to accept a teaching position at the University of Toronto.  But his time with Fr. Thomas had gone deep, and within a year he’d once again decided to leave a secure career and moved to Trosly-Breuil, France to join the priest, who was serving as the chaplain at a small institution for men with developmental disabilities.  Vanier was profoundly moved by the experience, and had soon identified other special needs adults being “stored” in psychiatric hospitals out of ignorance, against their wills.  Their inner beauty and their aching hunger for community moved Vanier to buy a small home.  He named it L’Arche (after Noah’s ark), and began inviting his new friends to join him there. And an international movement was born. Today there are 131 L’Arche communities in 34 countries.  In these homes adults who carry their disabilities externally and those who carry their disabilities internally daily celebrate together the dignity of all human beings.  In these homes “productivity” is measured in smiles and hugs, and “success” is defined by love.  In these homes everyone is a student, and everyone is a teacher.  Jean Vanier is a visionary.  Long ago he saw the significance of special needs people; how they can teach lessons that cannot be learned in schools or books---what is most essential to becoming fully human.  And in a world increasingly shrouded by a culture of death, his vision and his L’Arche communities have never burned brighter. He is a hero you should know.   This blog was informed by the following: Enough Room for Joy:  The Early Days of Jean Vanier’s L’Arche, William Clarke and  Jean VanierCommunity and Growth. Jean VanierBecoming Human, Jean VanierWikipedia, Jean Vanier

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