The History of L'Arche


Jean Vanier

L'Arche was founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier. The son of the Governor General of Canada, he grew up to serve in the British and Royal Canadian Navy as an officer. However, he resigned in 1950 to study philosophy and theology at the Institut Catholique in Paris. Whilst there, he met Father Thomas Philippe a Dominican priest and professor who was to become a close friend.


Jean moved back to Canada to teach at the University of Toronto but was invited to return to France by Father Thomas. He moved to Trosly-Breuil where his eyes were opened to the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities. Jean was incredibly moved and invited two of the men he met, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave their institutions and come and join him in his own home. Inspired by Noah's Arc, Jean named their house L'Arche (the Ark in French).

Jean had been and still is an inspiring teacher.  Many of his friends and students came to visit him and experience this radical new way of living.  L'Arche in Trosly grew rapidly and in 1969 the first community opened in Canada.  Gradually more and more communities began around the world founded by people inspired by Jean’s work. Jean remained the leader of the Trosly-Breuil community until 1981 and still lives there now. He also travels widely, visiting other L'Arche communities, encouraging new projects and hosting lectures and retreats. He has received many awards for his work, including the French Legion of Honour and the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award. His books have been translated into 29 different languages. He is also the co-founder of Faith and Light, a support network for people with learning disabilities and their families.

Find out more about L'Arche UK and read about Jean Vanier and L'Arche International.