Jean Vanier

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Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier in 2012
Vanier in 2012
Born(1928-09-10)September 10, 1928
Geneva, Switzerland
DiedMay 7, 2019(2019-05-07) (aged 90)
Paris, France
OrganizationCatholic Church
Known forFounder of L'Arche
RelativesGeorges Vanier, father
Pauline Vanier, mother
Thérèse Vanier, sister
AwardsOrder of Canada, 1972
National Order of Quebec, 1992
Legion of Honour, 2003
Humanitarian Award, 2001
Pacem in Terris Award, 2013
Templeton Prize, 2015
Military career
Service/branchRoyal Canadian Navy
Years of service1941–1950
RankMidshipman, naval officer

Jean Vanier CC GOQ (French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ vanje], September 10, 1928 – May 7, 2019) was a Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian. In 1964, he founded L'Arche, an international federation of communities spread over 37 countries for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. In 1971, he co-founded Faith and Light with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, which also works for people with developmental disabilities, their families, and friends in over 80 countries. He continued to live as a member of the original L'Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France, until his death.

Over the years he wrote 30 books on religion, disability, normality, success, and tolerance.[1] Among the honours he received were the Companion of the Order of Canada (1986),[2] Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (1992),[3] French Legion of Honour (2003), Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003, later revoked), the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award (2013), and the Templeton Prize (2015).

In February 2020, an internal report published by L'Arche[4] concluded that Vanier sexually abused six women in Trosly-Breuil, France, between 1970 and 2005.[5][6] The investigation was conducted by the UK-based GCPS Consulting Group.[6]

Early years and background[edit]

Vanier was the son of Canadian parents, Major-General Georges Vanier, who became the 19th Governor General of Canada (1959–1967), and his mother Pauline Vanier (née Archer). He was born in Geneva, and was the fourth of five siblings (including sister and brother Bernard Vanier), in his youth Vanier received a broad education in English and French, first in Canada and then in France and England. 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. From age 13, he trained for a career as a naval officer at the Dartmouth Naval College (later renamed Britannia Royal Naval College).[7][8]

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 was a profoundly moving encounter for him, which he never forgot. He served in World War II 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.[9]

In 1949, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy, at the carrier HMCS Magnificent. In 1950, 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 which was published in 1966 as Happiness as Principle and End of Aristotelian Ethics; this was his first published work. He went on to write over 30 books[10] during his career and taught philosophy at the University of St. Michael's College, University of Toronto.[8] He left academia in 1964, seeking a more spiritual ministry. His research lives on at the Jean Vanier Research Centre located at King's University College in London, Ontario, Canada.[11]

Foundation of L'Arche[edit]

In 1964, through Vanier's friendship with a priest named Thomas Philippe, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities. Vanier invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they resided and live with him in Trosly-Breuil, France. Their time together led to the establishment of L'Arche at Trosly-Breuil, a community where people with disabilities live with those who care for them.[12][13] Since that time a network of 150 L'Arche communities have been established in 38 countries.[10] A governing philosophy of the communities is Vanier's belief that people with disabilities are teachers, rather than burdens bestowed upon families.[14]

Until the late 1990s, Vanier carried the responsibility for L'Arche in Trosly-Breuil in France, and for the International Federation of L'Arche. He then stepped down to spend more time counselling, encouraging, and accompanying the people who come to live in L'Arche as assistants to those with disabilities. Vanier established 147 L'Arche communities in 37 countries around the world which have become places of pilgrimage for those involved.[15][16]

Later life[edit]

Vanier with John Smeltzer, a member of L'Arche Daybreak, 2009

In 1968, Vanier gave a Faith and Sharing retreat in Mary Lake, Ontario, the first in his movement of retreats where people from many walks of life are welcome.[17] The retreats continue today as part of the Faith and Sharing Federation.[18]

As of 2013, there were 13 communities in North America that organize annual retreats and days of prayer.[19] 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."

In 1971, Vanier co-founded Faith and Light with Marie-Hélène Mathieu. This is an international movement of forums for people with developmental disabilities, their family and friends. Today there are over 1,500 Faith and Light communities in 81 countries around the world.[20]

Vanier continued to live in the original L'Arche community of Trosly-Breuil, France, until his death in 2019. He continued to travel widely, visiting other L'Arche communities, encouraging projects for new communities and giving lectures and retreats.[21][22] He was the 1998 Massey lecturer, focusing on the theme of "Becoming Human".[23] During one of his lectures, he touched on his distaste for barriers around people with intellectual disabilities, a motivating philosophy behind L'Arche: "We must do what we can to diminish walls, to meet each other. Why do we put people with disabilities behind walls?"[14]

In 2017, Vanier narrated and appeared in the documentary Summer In The Forest,[24] filmed in the L'Arche communities in Trosly-Breuil and Bethlehem and featuring many of the residents of both communities with whom he worked. Writing in the New York Times, critic Ken Jaworowski observed that "just watching the residents leads you to confront and change many of your own preconceptions."[25]

Vanier died on May 7, 2019. A week before his death, Pope Francis called Vanier to thank him for his years of ministry and service.[26] Following his death, Pope Francis, who was flying back to Rome from North Macedonia, told a group of journalists, "I want to express my gratitude for his testimony" and said Vanier could read and interpret not only the Christian gaze on "the mystery of death, of the cross, of suffering", but also "the mystery of those who are discarded by the world".[27]

Among those he influenced were the Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian Henri Nouwen who came to join the L'Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.[28]

Sexual abuse[edit]

In February 2020, an internal report by L'Arche concluded that Vanier sexually abused six women in Trosly-Breuil, France, between 1970 and 2005.[6][29][30]

According to a joint statement by leaders of L'Arche International, Vanier had engaged in "manipulative and emotionally abusive" sexual relationships with six women in France, between 1970 and 2005. Sexual relations were instigated by Vanier, usually in the context of giving spiritual guidance. The statement read, "These women reported similar facts associated with highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these behaviours... The relationships ... had a significant negative impact on their personal lives and subsequent relationships. These actions are indicative of a deep psychological and spiritual hold Jean Vanier had on these women." It also said that Vanier asked the women to keep the incidents secret. The women included assistants and nuns. Vanier was also a member of a small clandestine group which subscribed to and participated in some of the sexual practices of disgraced priest Thomas Philippe, the L'Arche statement said.[5][6]

A fuller report by an independent group commissioned by L'Arche, published in January 2023, learned of 25 different women who had experienced a sexual act or intimate gesture (such as kissing on the mouth or caresses to the body, most commonly the breasts) with Jean Vanier. These relationships in total span from 1952 to 2019. [31] p508. Vanier would typically initiate contact through meetings nominally about spiritual accompaniment; after some time, body contact and nudity would gradually be introduced into the spiritual accompaniment sessions. The most common pattern described is one where Vanier would kneel down in front of the woman with his head against her chest and then make contact with her breasts, and, if permitted, would caress the breasts with his mouth. Some of the women only came to regard these moments of contact as abusive many years later. Vanier would often quote from the Song of Songs. The practices were founded on so-called "mystical" or "spiritual" beliefs that had been condemned by the Catholic Church, it added. Vanier described Philippe, who died in 1993, as his "spiritual father", but at first publicly denied knowledge of the practices. The investigation was carried out by independent UK consultancy GCPS.[6] Vanier wrote in May 2015 that he now accepted that Philippe "hurt mature and intelligent people who appear to have placed all their trust in him" and that "I am unable to peacefully reconcile these two realities."[32]


Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto described the events "tragic and heart wrenching". The Canadian and American branches of L'Arche have voiced their concern in various statements.[33]

In Canada, where there were many schools named after Vanier, some school boards have renamed schools named for him.[33][34]

In February 2020, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, posthumously stripped Vanier of two awards which the university had awarded him, including the 1994 Notre Dame Award for humanitarian service.[35][36]

Awards and honours[edit]

Vanier received numerous awards for his work, including the Companion of the Order of Canada, Officer of the Order of the Legion of Honour (France, 2003)[37] and many awards from faith groups, among them the Paul VI International Prize, the Community of Christ International Peace Award (later revoked), the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award, and the Gaudium et Spes Award, named after the Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et spes document.[38]

In 1993, he received the Loyola Medal from Concordia University.[39] In 1999, he won the Writers' Trust of Canada's Gordon Montador Award for Becoming Human.[40]

In November 2004, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation poll ranked him as number 12 in a list of greatest Canadians.[38]

In 2010, the asteroid 8604 was officially named Vanier in his honour.[41][42]

In 2013, he received the United States-based Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, established by the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.[43]

In March 2015, Vanier was awarded the $1.7 million[44] Templeton Prize in recognition of his advocacy for people with disabilities and his contributions to a broader exploration of helping the weak and vulnerable.[45][16]

On September 27, 2016, Vanier received the Peace Abbey Foundation (USA) International Courage of Conscience Award in Trosly-Breuil, France, for his lifelong commitment to building a world of inclusion for individuals with disabilities.[46]

Schools formerly named after Vanier[edit]

Many schools were previously named after Vanier, however, as of 2022, all of them have been renamed in light of the posthumous report of his involvement in abusive sexual relationships:


  • In weakness, strength: The spiritual sources of General the Rt. Hon. Georges P. Vanier, 19th Governor-General of Canada. Toronto: Griffin House. 1969. OCLC 77213.
  • Tears of silence. Toronto: Griffin. 1970. OCLC 395235248.
  • Eruption to hope. Toronto: Griffin House. 1971. OCLC 838694372.
  • Followers of Jesus. Toronto: Griffin Press. 1973. OCLC 859939780.
  • Be not afraid. Toronto: Griffin House. 1975. OCLC 494744391.
  • Community and growth: Our pilgrimage together. Toronto: Griffin House. 1979. OCLC 6277986.
  • The Challenge of L'Arche. Ottawa: Novalis. 1981. OCLC 8872141.
  • I meet Jesus : he tells me 'I love you', story of the love of God through the Bible. Ramsay, N.J.: Paulist Press. 1981. OCLC 15975370.
  • I walk with Jesus. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press. 1985. OCLC 14227091.
  • Man and woman He made them. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press. 1985. OCLC 13025956.
  • Jesus, the gift of love. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 1988. OCLC 895940048.
  • The broken body. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press. 1988. OCLC 17694012.
  • Images of love, words of hope. Hantsport, N.S.: Lancelot Press. 1991. OCLC 25369178.
  • A network of friends, volume one : 1964–1973 : the letters of Jean Vanier to the friends and communities of L'Arche. Hantsport, N.S.: Lancelot Press. 1992. OCLC 317449807.
  • From brokenness to community. New York: Paulist Press. 1992. OCLC 25409710.
  • An ark for the poor: the story of L'Arche. Ottawa: Novalis. 1995. OCLC 32546881.
  • The heart of L'Arche: A spirituality for every day. Toronto: Novalis. 1995. OCLC 33333740.
  • The scandal of service: Jesus washes our feet. Ottawa: Novalis. 1996. OCLC 36698314.
  • Our journey home: Rediscovering a common humanity beyond our differences. Ottawa: Novalis. 1997. OCLC 35919344.
  • Vanier, Jean; Andreu, Anne-Sophie; Quoist, Michel (1996). A door of hope. London: Hodder & Stoughton. OCLC 60292140.
  • Becoming Human. Toronto: Anansi. 2001. OCLC 654379327.
  • Made for happiness: Discovering the meaning of life with Aristotle. London: Darton, Longman & Todd. 2001. OCLC 47824661.
  • Seeing beyond depression. London: SPCK. 2001. OCLC 46810914.
  • Finding peace. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. 2003. OCLC 52644543.
  • Drawn into the mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. New York: Paulist Press. 2004. OCLC 892517848.
  • Befriending the stranger. Toronto: Novalis. 2005. OCLC 66031013.
  • Our life together: A memoir in letters. London: Darton Longman Todd. 2008. OCLC 260043937.
  • Vanier, Jean; Hauerwas, Stanley (2008). Living gently in a violent world: The prophetic witness of weakness. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books. OCLC 837379461.[58]
  • From Brokenness to Wholeness. Singapore: MEDIO MEDIA. 2012. OCLC 858345447.
  • The Gospel of John, the Gospel of Relationship. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2015. ISBN 978-1-61636-890-6.
  • Life's Great Questions. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2015. ISBN 978-1-61636-941-5.
  • Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man. Walden, NY: Plough. 2019. OCLC 1089839058.


  1. ^ "Jean Vanier: Philosopher who dislikes the 'religion' of success wins £1.2m Templeton Prize for promoting spiritual awareness". The Independent. March 11, 2015. Archived from the original on March 12, 2015. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
  2. ^ "Order of Canada: Jean Vanier, C.C., G.O.Q., D.Ph". The Governor General of Canada website. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  3. ^ "Grand Officer, National Order of Quebec". Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  4. ^ "Commission d'étude". Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  5. ^ a b "L'Arche International announces findings of Independent Inquiry". L'Arch International. February 22, 2020. Archived from the original on July 28, 2021. Retrieved February 25, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Revered charity founder 'abused six women'". BBC News. February 22, 2020. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  7. ^ Freeman, Mac (February 3, 2008). Jean Vanier (online ed.). Historica Canada. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Brief Chronology". Jean Vanier – Becoming Human. Archived from the original on May 13, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
  9. ^ "Templeton Prize bio of Varnier" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 5, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Obituary: Jean Vanier died on May 7th," The Economist, May 16, 2019.
  11. ^ "Jean Vanier Research Centre at King's". Retrieved August 28, 2019.
  12. ^ "Pensamientos de Jean Vanier: JEAN VANIER y El Arca". Pensamientos de Jean Vanier. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  13. ^ "Notre histoire | L'Arche en France". (in French). Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  14. ^ a b Scrivener, Leslie. "Canada's disciple to the disabled". Retrieved July 28, 2015. He is wary of institutions. The theme in last night's lecture was his fear of the walls that separate people. 'We must do what we can to diminish walls, to meet each other. Why do we put people with disabilities behind walls?'
  15. ^ "L'Arche – Worldwide". Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  16. ^ a b "Templeton Prize" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 5, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  17. ^ "The Grace of Faith and Sharing" (PDF). Faith and Sharing Federation. July 1988. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  18. ^ "Faith and Sharing Federation". Faith and Sharing Federation. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  19. ^ "L'Arche, Faith and Sharing, Faith and Light" (PDF). Faith and Sharing Federation. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  20. ^ "Overview, Faith and Light". April 17, 2013. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  21. ^ "Entering into Silent Prayer, Jean Vanier & Laurence Freeman – YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  22. ^ Saint Vincent College (January 29, 2009), On Retreat with Jean Vanier, archived from the original on December 21, 2021, retrieved June 20, 2017
  23. ^ Nagy, Elizabeth. "The 1998 CBC Massey Lectures, "Becoming Human"". CBC. Retrieved July 28, 2015.
  24. ^ "Summer In The Forest". Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  25. ^ Jaworowski, Ken (March 22, 2018). "Review: 'Summer in the Forest' Captivates With Questions of Humanity". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  26. ^ "Pope Francis called Jean Vanier to thank him before his death". National Catholic Reporter. May 7, 2019. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  27. ^ "Pope pays tribute to Jean Vanier". Vatican News. May 7, 2019. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  28. ^ Nouwen (Author), Robert A. Jonas (Editor), Henri J. M.; Jonas, Robert A (2009). The Essential Henri Nouwen. Shambhala Publications. pp. xxxiv. ISBN 978-0-8348-2216-0. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  29. ^ Corbet, Sylvie (February 22, 2020). "Respected Canadian charity founder sexually abused 6 women: report". CTVNews. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  30. ^ Mares, Courtney (February 22, 2020). "L'Arche reports sexual misconduct by founder Jean Vanier". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  31. ^ "Control and Abuse Investigation on Thomas Philippe, Jean Vanier and L'Arche (1950-2019)" (PDF). Commission d’Étude mandatée par L’Arche Internationale.
  32. ^ O'Loughlin, Michael J. (February 22, 2020). "Internal report finds that L'Arche founder Jean Vanier engaged in decades of sexual misconduct". America.
  33. ^ a b "Sex abuse allegations against Jean Vanier met with shock and condemnation". The Catholic Register. National Catholic News Service. February 22, 2020.
  34. ^ Draaisma, Muriel (February 23, 2020). "2 Catholic boards in GTA 'deeply concerned' at report of sex abuse by Jean Vanier". CBC News.
  35. ^ Zauzmer, Julie (February 23, 2020). "Jean Vanier, once seen as a Nobel or sainthood candidate, now accused of abusive sexual relationships". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  36. ^ "University of Notre Dame revokes awards given to L'Arche founder Vanier". National Catholic Reporter. National Catholic News Service. February 26, 2020. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  37. ^ "Awards to Canadians". Canada Gazette. Archived from the original on April 30, 2012. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  38. ^ a b "Top 100 Greatest Canadians". Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  39. ^ "Jean Vanier". Concordia University. Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  40. ^ "Montador award winners named". North Bay Nugget, May 27, 1999.
  41. ^ The citation and more information are found by entering this number or name in the JPL Small-Body Database.
  42. ^ "Asteroid (8604) Vanier | RASC". June 7, 2013. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  43. ^ Deirdre Baker (June 17, 2013). "Award presentation to be in France". Quad-City Times. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  44. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor (March 12, 2015). "What It Means to Be Fully Human". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 24, 2020. This year's winner, Jean Vanier, received $1.7 million.
  45. ^ "Current Winner". Templeton Prize. John Templeton Foundation. March 11, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  46. ^ DeMarco, Donald (August 21, 2017). "Jean Vanier… To Love And Be Loved". The Wanderer Newspaper. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  47. ^ "L'École catholique Jean-Vanier change de nom et devient l'École secondaire catholique l'Envolée du Nord. - CSCDGR". Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  48. ^ Cosh, Colby. "Colby Cosh: Schools across Canada continue the march toward de-Vanierization". The Guardian. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  49. ^ "Board A New School Name". Halton Catholic District School Board. June 17, 2020. Archived from the original on August 2, 2020. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  50. ^ Alozzi, Raneem (July 22, 2020). "Jean Vanier's name to be removed from Scarborough high school following allegations of sexual abuse". The Star. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  51. ^ Bradford, MJ (June 12, 2020). "Collingwood Catholic High School Renamed 'Our Lady of the Bay': Formerly Named Jean Vanier Catholic High School". Barrie 360. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  52. ^ Dosser, Travis (April 28, 2020). "Jean Vanier renamed as St. Nicholas". Sherwood Park News. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  53. ^ "Former Jean Vanier school renamed St. Maria Faustina School: Regina Catholic School Division". CBC. June 17, 2020. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  54. ^ Ruby, Michelle (June 24, 2020). "Jean Vanier School gets new name". Brantford Expositor. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  55. ^ Cheevers, Melinda (July 17, 2020). "Welland's French-language Catholic high school gets a new name". Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  56. ^ Taccone, Amanda (December 16, 2020). "New name for Jean Vanier elementary school unveiled". CTV News London. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  57. ^ "Whitehorse's Catholic secondary school renamed". June 20, 2022. Retrieved September 25, 2022.
  58. ^ Expanded edition released July 2018; Living Gently in a Violent World (InterVarsity Press, 2018).
Additional sources
  • Vanier, Jean. "The Wit Lectures: Harvard University the Divinity School." From Brokenness to Community, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1992.

External links[edit]