Jean Vanier, whose charity work helped improve conditions for the developmentally disabled in Canada and multiple other countries over the past half-century, has died at 90.
A charity he founded, L’Arche, said Vanier died Tuesday in Paris after suffering from thyroid cancer.
Vanier, son of former governor general Georges P. Vanier, worked as a Canadian navy officer and professor before turning to Catholic-inspired charity work. In 1950 he resigned his commission saying that he wanted “to follow Jesus”.
He studied theology and philosophy, completing his doctoral studies on happiness in the ethics of Aristotle. He became a teaching professor at St Michael’s College in Toronto.
During the Christmas holidays of 1964, he visited a friend who was working as a chaplain for men with learning difficulties just outside Paris. Disturbed by conditions in which 80 men did nothing but walk around in circles, he bought a small house nearby and invited two men from the institution to join him.
Vanier said that living with the disabled helped him to appreciate two truths: first, that people with learning difficulties have a great deal to contribute; second, by living in intentional community with people – with and without learning disabilities – we open ourselves up to be challenged and to grow.
There are now 147 L’Arche centres in 35 countries, where people with and without disabilities live together as equals. There are a further 1,800 Faith and Light support groups, for people with special needs and their families and friends, across 80 nations.
He visited Malta in September 1985, when he was invited by the Diocesan Youth Commission.
Jean Vanier was an inspiration to Fr Anġ Seychell, better know as Dun Anġ, to open his home to persons with intellectual disability which he named ‘Dar Nazaret’. Another home that Dun Anġ opened nearby was appropriately named after Jean Vanier.
Jean Vanier’s message was always an encouragement to build communities of compassion with emphasis on the dignity and value of human life. He stressed that persons with disability not only transformed him as a person but he also sees in them a call to appreciate that difference is a gift and not a threat.Fr Martin Micallef, Director of Dar Tal-Providenza paid tribute to Vanier.
Jean Vanier’s message is always an encouragement to build communities of compassion with emphasis on the dignity and value of human life. He stresses that persons with disability not only transformed him as a person but he also sees in them a call to appreciate that difference is a gift and not a threat.
Pope Francis was informed of Vanier’s death and is praying for him and the community, according to Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute on social media, saying Vanier “made it his life’s work to help the most vulnerable, and give everyone a real and fair chance at success.”
Via BBC / CBC / Dar Tal-Providenza