The groundbreaking community centered on people with intellectual disabilities will examine how to foster humility and compassionate love
The L’Arche community began in 1967 when a French Canadian named Jean Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him as friends in a house in a small village north of Paris. Today, L’Arche — whose name alludes to its role as both a bridge and an ark of refuge for its members — encompasses 154 communities in 38 countries and more than 10,000 residential and non-residential participants.
For Vanier — who passed away in May at the age of 90 — and for those who helped create and carry on the work of L’Arche, the values of humility and compassionate love have always been central. In his speech accepting the 2015 Templeton Prize for his work with L’Arche, Vanier said that “if we become a friend of somebody who has been humiliated, rejected, put down, seen as unimportant, something happens. If you become a friend of somebody rejected, we are changed.”
This year, thanks to a new $220,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation, members of L’Arche USA — the largest L’Arche member community — will begin a groundbreaking participatory evaluation aimed at helping L’Arche’s members better define and understand the ways in which their community’s model helps transform the lives of its members — the “core members” with intellectual disabilities as well as the “assistants” who live alongside them.
The L’Arche USA evaluation will be facilitated by Dr. Steve Patty of Dialogues in Action, but the participants themselves will help collect the data, draw out its themes, and implement any recommendations. And while previous studies of L’Arche have focused on those without intellectual disabilities, this project will look at how life together develops qualities like compassionate love and humility in all L’Arche members of all levels of intellectual ability. The project will conclude with a two-day experiential and reflective symposium which will draw more than a dozen interdisciplinary scholars to discuss the project’s findings with L’Arche members.
“From its beginnings, the L’Arche communities have viewed all of their members as co-participants,” says Sarah Clement, the John Templeton Foundation’s Director for Character Virtue Development. “Part of what makes this project so powerful is that it will help L’Arche members to better understand what makes their communities so transformative — and what they can do to nourish and expand the virtues they see as central to their life together.”