Jean Vanier

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Jean Vanier
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Jean Vanier with John Smeltzer, a member of L'Arche Daybreak
Born (1928-09-10) September 10, 1928 (age 86)
Geneva, Switzerland
Known for Founder of L'Arche
Religion Roman Catholic
Relatives Georges Vanier, father
Pauline Vanier, mother
Thérèse Vanier, sister
Awards Order of Canada

National Order of Quebec

Legion of Honour
Humanitarian Award
Pacem in Terris Award
Templeton Prize

Jean Vanier, CC GOQ (born September 10, 1928) is a Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian. He is the founder of L'Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them.[1] Among the honors he has received are the French Legion of Honour (2003), the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award (2013) and the Templeton Prize (2015).

Early years[edit]

Vanier is the son of Major-General Georges Vanier, who became the 19th Governor General of Canada, and his wife Pauline Vanier. He was born in Geneva, while his father was on diplomatic service in Switzerland. In his youth, Vanier received a broad education in English and French first in Canada, and then England and France. During World War II, Vanier and his family fled Paris just before the Nazi occupation. He spent much of the War at an English naval academy, preparing for a career as a naval officer.[2][3]

In early 1945, Vanier was visiting Paris where his father was Canadian Ambassador; he and his mother went to assist survivors of Nazi concentration camps. Seeing the emaciated victims, their faces twisted with fear and anguish, was a profoundly moving encounter for him, which he never forgot. Shortly thereafter, at age seventeen, with World War II still raging, he served with the Royal Navy and then with the Royal Canadian Navy. In 1947 as a midshipman, Vanier accompanied the Royal Family on their tour of South Africa aboard HMS Vanguard.

From 1950, feeling a strong inner spiritual calling to do “something else,” he resigned his naval commission. Vanier travelled to Paris to study as an undergraduate. He eventually went on to complete a PhD in philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Paris, with a doctoral thesis on Aristotle. He subsequently taught philosophy at the University of St. Michael's College, University of Toronto.[4] Vanier left academia in 1964 seeking more spiritual work.

Foundation of L'Arche[edit]

Main article: L'Arche

In 1964, through Vanier's friendship with a priest named Father Thomas Philippe, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalised with developmental disabilities. Jean Vanier invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they resided and live with him in Trosly-Breuil, France. He also assisted in institution schools.

He expanded his efforts and established L'Arche at Trosly-Breuil, a community for people with disabilities to live with those who cared for them. He helped develop such communities in other places around the world. Until the late 1990s, Jean Vanier carried the responsibility for L'Arche in Trosly-Breuil in France, and for the International Federation of L'Arche. He stepped down to spend more time counseling, encouraging and accompanying the people who come to live in L'Arche as assistants to those with disabilities.

Later life[edit]

In 1968, Jean Vanier gave a Faith and Sharing retreat in Marylake, Ontario the first of a movement of retreats where people from many walks of life are welcome.[5] The retreats continue today as part of the Faith and Sharing Federation.[6] As of 2013, there are 13 communities in North America that organize annual retreats and days of prayer.[7] Faith and Sharing member Bill Clark, SJ explains: "There is then a two-fold movement in Faith and Sharing: an inward movement towards God hidden in the depths of our own vulnerability, and an outward movement towards our brothers and sisters, especially those who are more poor and in need." [5] The organization's records are housed at the John M. Kelly Library, University of St. Michael's College.[8]

In 1971, he co-founded Faith and Light with Marie Helene Mathieu. It is an international movement of forums for people with developmental disabilities, their family and friends. Today there are over 1,800 Faith and Light communities in 80 countries around the world.[4]

Vanier still makes his home in the original L'Arche community of Trosly-Breuil, France. He travels widely, visiting other L'Arche communities, encouraging projects for new communities, and giving lectures and retreats.

Published works[edit]


Awards and honours[edit]

He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Companion of the Order of Canada, the Legion of Honour (France, 2003)[9] and many awards from faith groups, among them the Paul VI International Prize, the Community of Christ International Peace Award, the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award, and the Gaudium et Spes Award, named after the Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et spes document.[10]

In November 2004, a CBC poll ranked him as number 12 in a list of Greatest Canadians.[10]

In 2010, the asteroid 8604 was officially named Vanier in his honour.[11]

In 2013 he received the United States-based Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, established by a coalition of Catholic dioceses in the Midwest.[12]

In March 2015 Vanier was awarded the Templeton Prize in recognition of his advocacy for people with disabilities and his contributions to a broader exploration of helping the weak and vulnerable.[13][14]

Schools named after Jean Vanier[edit]

Schools have been named in his honor in Whitehorse, Yukon; London, Ontario; Scarborough, Ontario; Collingwood, Ontario; Richmond Hill, Ontario; Welland, Ontario; Sherwood Park, Alberta and, most recently, Milton, Ontario.[15]


  1. ^ L'Arche Page
  2. ^ "The Man: Early Years", Jean-Vanier Official Website
  3. ^ Freeman, Mac (February 3, 2008). "Jean Vanier". Historica Canada. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Brief Chronology". Jean Vanier - Becoming Human. Retrieved January 14, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "The Grace of Faith and Sharing" (PDF). Faith and Sharing Federation. July 1988. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Faith and Sharing Federation". Faith and Sharing Federation. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  7. ^ "L'Arche, Faith and Sharing, Faith and Light" (PDF). Faith and Sharing Federation. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Faith and Sharing Federation fonds". John M. Kelly Library Archival and Manuscript Collections. University of St. Michael's College. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Awards to Canadians". Canada Gazette. Retrieved February 2, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Top 100 Greatest Canadians". Archived from the original on 2010-07-22. Retrieved February 2, 2012. 
  11. ^ The citation and more information are found by entering this number or name in the JPL Small-Body Database.
  12. ^ Deirdre Baker (2013-06-17). "Award presentation to be in France". Quad-City Times. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  13. ^ "Current Winner". John Templeton Foundation. March 11, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  14. ^ Ha, Tu Thanh (March 11, 2015). "Canadian wins $2-million international prize for work 'affirming life’s spiritual dimension'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Board Announces Name for New Catholic Secondary School in Milton". Halton Catholic District School Board. March 6, 2013. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 

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