Remembering Jean Vanier
Sir, – Thank you for your detailed obituary of Jean Vanier (May 11th). I was interested in the headline “Humanitarian who found his place among people with disabilities”. This of course was very true, but he was much more than a humanitarian. He was inspired by his religious faith in Jesus Christ, yet this is not alluded to in your piece. He was first and foremost a person of deep religious faith – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I appreciate that obituaries such as yours of Jean Vanier must be focused on the international stature of the man, but it would be a pity to let the occasion pass without referring to his intimate connection to Ireland from the 1970s onwards, when his friendship with Bishop Peter Birch, a relentless champion of the disadvantaged and the under-served, led to the establishment of the L’Arche movement in Ireland.
A resident of the Kilkenny village of Kilmoganny expressed to the local doctor his concern for his daughter when she reached the age where school-based services would no longer be available to her. The doctor suggested they approach Bishop Birch, who fortuitously had been given a former family home by a local businesswoman. Jean Vanier, who was then in his early 50s, approved the location and asked a trusted Irish leader from L’Arche’s French community to lead the founding effort, and himself declaring “Moorfield” officially open at the end of June 1978. Jean took a kindly interest in the foundation over the next four decades, during which it secured a further gift of almost 50 acres of farmland from the same benefactor, allowing the fledgling community to implement a horticulture programme.
Today there are four locations in the Kilkenny area, including the popular L’Arche Cafe in Callan and communities in Cork, Dublin and Belfast, giving a total of more than a dozen residences and activity centres. Irish personnel continue to have an important role in the international movement, with the recent appointment of a member of the Cork community to a leadership position at the original location in Trosly-Breuil. – Yours, etc,