Interview with Jean Vanier

Martina Vuk

Here we publish an interview in which Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, talks about dialogue, mercy, justice and forgiveness. The interviewer was Martina Vuk, a postgraduate student at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Jean Vanier, known worldwide as founder of the international network of L’Arche communities, the inspiring spiritual writer and humanitarian was born in Geneva in 1928, son of Canadian Governor General Georges-Philias Vanier and Pauline Archer. At the age of 13, he joined the British Royal Navy during World War II. He left the Navy in 1950, seeking his own path and responding to an inner call within himself. He earned a doctorate at the Catholic Institute of Paris and shortly after that he taught philosophy at the University of St Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada. In 1964, through Dominican priest, Father Thomas Phillippe, he met with a few people with learning and developmental disabilities who had been living in a mental institution in northern France. This was the beginning of what would later be called the L’Arche community. Although the core of Vanier’s doctoral thesis questioned the notion of happiness as the beginning and the end of Aristotle’s ethics of friendship between equals, in L’Arche, Vanier began to build friendships between ‘unequals’. He started to share life with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities whose lives were spent in social isolation and in institutions. Very soon this modest co-existence would shape the character of communion and friendship. Without certainty, but with confidence in God’s providential plan, the L’Arche community began to grow around the world. Today there are about 149 communities in nearly 37 countries. Vanier saw the gospel passage Matthew 5.1-12 as the driving force and meaning behind L’Arche.

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