Portrait of a Free Man
by Anne-Sophie Constant
Pub Date 04 Aug 2019
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It’s a crazy story. In August 1964 a thirty-six-year-old Canadian from a famous family – one who has already joined the navy during war at age thirteen, become an officer, earned a PhD, and taught ethics at the University of Toronto -- takes up residence in a little house he just bought in the village of Trosly, France, with two mentally disabled men he has removed from a care home. The house, which he calls l’Arche (the Ark), has neither water nor electricity. His plan? None. He is just convinced he has to do it, touched by the silent cry of these men shut up in the gloomy, violent institution where he found them. His example is contagious; within months the community has grown to over fifty.
Jean Vanier is known and loved around the world for having created L'Arche, those unique communities of people with disabilities and their volunteer caregivers in more than one hundred and fifty sites on five continents. But Vanier is also a philosopher, a spiritual master who touches believers and nonbelievers alike, a tireless messenger of peace and ecumenism, and an adventurer with life full of twists and turns. Anne-Sophie Constant's literary biography paints a rare portrait of this extraordinary man and the events and influences that shaped his destiny.
“The story of Jean Vanier is the story of a free man – a man who knew how to become himself, who knew how to free himself from restraints, opinions, and prejudices; from intellectual, religious or moral habits; from his epoch; from popular opinion. . . . Jean Vanier has transformed the lives of thousands and thousands of mentally disabled people. And he has transformed the understanding of thousands of people regarding the disabilities of their own children and of people with disabilities. Where we see only failure, disgrace, impossibility, limit, weakness, ugliness, and suffering, Jean Vanier sees beauty. And he knows how to open the eyes of others to see it.”
Every time one meets Jean Vanier, one has a sense of new horizons opening up, of a new vision opening before one’s eyes of what it is to be human and of what it is to be in a community.--Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Vanier radiates the strength of a man who has fought his own inner battles and surfaced with peace.…[He] continues to chip away at our fear of difference.--Maclean’s
Jean Vanier’s life’s work is not a book – though he has written many – but a community, L’Arche, where the disabled are welcomed and treated as being of equal worth, perhaps greater worth, than their helpers. More philosophers should be that way, and certainly more theologians.--The Guardian