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Heroes You Should Know: Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier, the son of a diplomat, was commissioned as an officer in the English Navy in 1945.  But despite his early success, he was not satisfied.  He left the military, and studied philosophy at the Catholic Institute in Paris.  After earning his doctorate, Vanier considered a vocation as a college professor, but again he heard the still small voice calling him to something else.  His mentor in graduate school, Fr. Thomas Phillipe, invited Vanier to visit him in France where he 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.Today there are 131 L’Arche communities in 34 countries.  In these homes special needs adults and typically developing adults live together in community. 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.  Long ago Jean Vanier saw the significance of special needs people; how they can teach lessons about what is most essential to becoming fully human.  And in a world increasingly shrouded by a culture of death, his vision has never burned brighter. Jean Vanier is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

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