Vanier, Jean 1928-

views updated

VANIER, Jean 1928-


Born September 10, 1928, in Geneva, Switzerland; son of George Vanier (a diplomat and politician). Education: Attended Dartmouth Royal Naval College; Institute Catholique de Paris, Ph.D. (philosophy), 1962. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Home—Trosly-Breuil, France. Office—L'Arche International, 10 Rue Fenoux, 75015 Paris, France.


Educator and advocate of the disadvantaged. St. Michael's University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, instructor in philosophy, c. 1963; L'Arch (network of faith-based communities), Trosly-Breuil, France, founder, 1964-80; Faith and Light, founder. Military service: British Royal Navy, 1941-49; Canadian Navy, 1948-50; officer on battleship Vanguard during World War II; officer on aircraft carrier Magnificent until 1950.


Named companion, Order of Canada, 1989; Paul VI International Prize for lay ministry work, 1997; Gordon Montador Award, 1998, for Becoming Human.


In Weakness, Strength; The Spiritual Sources of Georges P. Vanier, Nineteenth Governor-General of Canada, Griffin House (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969.

Tears of Silence, Griffin House (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1970.

Eruption to Hope, Griffin House (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1971.

Be Not Afraid, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1975.

Diciple de Jésus, Fleurus (Paris, France), 1977, translated as Followers of Jesus, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1996.

La communauté, lieu du pardon et de la fête, translated by Ann Shearer as Community and Growth: Our Pilgrimage Together, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1979, revised edition, St. Paul Publications (Bombay, India), 1991.

(Author of introduction and afterword) The Challenge of l'Arche, Darton, Longman, and Todd (London, England), 1982.

Homme et femme Il les fit, translation published as Man and Woman He Made Them, Paulist Press (Mahwah, NJ), 1985.

Ouvre mes bras, Fleurus (Paris, France), 1993.

Jesus, the Gift of Love, Crossroad (New York, NY), 1994.

A Network of Friends: The Letters of Jean Vanier to the Friends and Communities of l'Arche, 3 volumes, edited by John Sumarah, Lancelot Press (Hantsport, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1994-1997.

Toute personne est une histoire sacré, Plon (Paris, France), 1994, translated by Maggie Parham as Our Journey Home: Rediscovering a Common Humanity beyond Our Differences, Orbis (Maryknoll, NJ), 1994.

L'histoire de l'Arche, translated as An Ark for the Poor: The Story of l'Arche, Novalis (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

The Heart of l'Arche: A Spirituality for Every Day, Crossroad (New York, NY), 1995.

Becoming Human (Massey Lectures; broadcast on CBC Radio, 1998), House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1998.

The Scandal of Service: Jesus Washes Our Feet, Continuum (New York, NY), 1998.

Le goût du bonheur: au fondement de la morale avec Aristote, Presses de la Renaissance (Paris, France), 2000, translated by Kathryn Spink as Made for Happiness: Discovering the Meaning of Life with Aristotle, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001, translation published as Happiness: A Guide to a Good Life: Aristotle for the New Century, Arcade (New York, NY), 2002.

Seeing beyond Depression, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Finding Peace, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Also author of published lectures, including From Brokenness to Community, 1992.

Vanier's works have been translated into numerous languages, including Armenian.


When author and activist Jean Vanier traveled from his home in rural France to the Canadian capital city of Ottawa to be honored as a companion of the Order of Canada, he brought with him an entourage: 150 mentally-disabled adults who represent the thousands who have been helped by Vanier through his establishment, in August of 1964, of l'Arche. Consisting of small communities designed to serve the mentally impaired, l'Arche has grown from one home in France to a network of over one hundred communities, and has become world-wide in its scope. Although retiring from his official position in l'Arche in 1980, Vanier has continued to dedicate himself to the underprivileged, and has also published a number of books that spread the Christian-based philosophy underlying his organization. As he was quoted by a Maclean's contributor, Vanier believes that the mentally handicapped "are the weakest and the most fragile, and they have much to teach us."

Joining the British Royal Navy in 1941 at age thirteen, Vanier remained in military service during and following World War II, moving to the Canadian Navy in 1948. In 1950, after rethinking his military career, he resigned his Navy post and moved to Paris, France, to earn his Ph.D. in philosophy. Initially intending to become a teacher at a Toronto university, Vanier's life plans changed after he met Father Thomas Philippe, who worked with a small group of mentally retarded men in rural France. A visit to Father Thomas's retreat convinced the aspiring philosophy professor that he could do more good outside the classroom; in August of 1964 he bought a farmhouse in Trosly-Breuil, France, and invited two mentally impaired men to live with him. This was the beginning of the first l'Arche community—named after Noah's Ark—as nearby houses were bought and refurbished, and soon hundreds of handicapped individuals worked together to support and sustain their fledgling community. Vanier's ability to promote his work attracted the funding necessary to build a network of such communities, and by 2000 l'Arche outposts could be found in many European nations, within the United States and Canada, Latin America, Japan, India, Africa, Scandinavia, the Philippines, and the Caribbean.

In his 1994 work, Our Journey Home: Rediscovering a Common Humanity beyond Our Differences, Vanier employs his characteristic "simple and spare" prose to set forth the philosophy underlying the l'Arche communities; as America contributor Michael Downey explained, Vanier esteems "relationship, covenant, forgiveness, respect for the wounded and the weak and the celebration of the fragility of life." Praising Our Journey Home as "an inspirational and humanist tract," Utopian Studies contributor Jeanne M. Wolfe added: "This is not a scholarly book, nor is it real autobiography, but rather offers the reader a devotional guide, and tantalizing anecdotes."

In 1998 Vanier appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio program Ideas and presented his Massey Lectures in a series of five talks. The transcript of these lectures was edited and published in book form as Becoming Human. In a further exploration of spirituality undergirded by Vanier's strong Roman Catholic faith, he maintains in Becoming Human that the modern focus on the individual has weakened rather than strengthened society. As a Maclean's contributor noted, Vanier "stresses that the loneliness and pain experienced by so many is actually created and stimulated by individualism and the competition it implies," and "the resulting hard-heartedness" results in the rising divorce rate, materialism and greed, and a host of environmental issues. Praising Becoming Human as a work useful for guiding readers through difficult passages in life, Diane Torres Velasquez wrote in Phi Delta Kappan: "In only 163 pages, Vanier profoundly crafts an anthropological model for spiritual growth that includes a growth toward freedom, an opening up of our hearts to others, and a discovering of our common humanity."

In 1997 Vanier was awarded the Vatican's Paul VI International Prize for his formation of l'Arche. With the financial award accompanying that prize, he set to work expanding l'Arche into formerly communist eastern Europe. Calling Vanier "by any standard, one of the most remarkable people in contemporary Catholicism," National Catholic Reporter contributor John L. Allen, Jr. added: "Like Mother Teresa before him, he carries the rare burden of being both a public figure and someone widely flagged as a saint in his own lifetime."



Clarke, Bill, Enough Room for Joy, 1974.


America, April 13, 1985, Jean Grigsby, interview with Vanier, pp. 302-305; April. 18, 1992, Martin E. O'Malley, interview with Vanier, pp. 319-321; November 1, 1997, Michael Downey, review of Our Journey Home: Rediscovering a Common Humanity beyond Our Differences, p. 31.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1997, Les Harding, review of A Network of Friends, p. 101.

Catholic Library World, June, 1999, Arnold Rzepecki, review of The Scandal of Service, p. 56.

Commonweal, September 10, 1982, Mary Gerhart, review of The Challenge of l'Arche, p. 477.

Library Journal, November 15, 1985, Elise Chase, review of Man and Woman He Made Them, p. 104; November 15, 2002, David Gordon, review of Happiness: A Guide to a Good Life, p. 75.

Maclean's, December 31, 1990, "Communities Built on Love," p. 34; November 30, 1998, review of Becoming Human, p. 82; September 4, 2000, "The Caregiver: Jean Vanier," p. 33.

National Catholic Reporter, September 27, 1985, pp. 9-10; September 9, 1988, p. 12; November 17, 2000, Gerry McCarthy, "Simple Relationships Are Key," p. 20; November 1, 2002, John L. Allen, Jr., "L'Arche Founder Reveals Face of Christ," p. 14.

Phi Delta Kappan, June, 2000, Diane Torres Velasquez, review of Becoming Human, p. 782.

Publishers Weekly, February 14, 1994, p. 65.

Quill & Quire, December, 2001, Marina Glogovac, review of Made for Happiness, p. 17.

Religious Studies Review, October, 1981, Karen McCarthy Brown, review of Community and Growth, p. 342.

Sojourners, January-February, 2002, Wayne A. Holst, review of Seeing Beyond Depression, p. 58.

Utopian Studies, winter, 1999, Jeanne M. Wolfe, review of Our Journey Home, p. 293.*