Jean Vanier founded L’Arche in 1964. Jean is the son of Georges Vanier, a very admired Governor General of Canada. Jean served in the British and Royal Canadian Navy as an officer and then in 1950 studied philosophy and theology at the Institut Catholique in Paris. Whilst there, he met Father Thomas Philippe a Dominican priest and professor who was to become a close friend.
Jean moved back to Canada to teach at the University of Toronto but was invited to return to France by Father Thomas. He moved to Trosly-Breuil where his eyes were opened to the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities. Jean was incredibly moved and invited two of the men he met, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave their institutions and come and join him in his own home. Inspired by Noah’s Arc, Jean named their house L’Arche (the Ark in French).
Jean had been and still is an inspiring teacher. Many of his friends and students came to visit him and experience this radical new way of living. L’Arche in Trosly grew rapidly and in 1969 the first Community outside France opened in Canada. In 1970 a Community was formed in Bangalore, India. Gradually more and more Communities began around the world founded by people inspired by Jean’s work. Jean remained the leader of the Trosly-Breuil community until 1981 and still lives there now. He has received many awards for his work, including the French Legion of Honour and the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award and in 2013 the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. His books have been translated into 29 different languages. He is also the co-founder of Faith & Light, a support network for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.