Mary brought greetings from CFUW Aurora and Newmarket. Her topic was “Finding Wholeness
in the Places of Brokenness”.
Mary started by considering our local club theme for this year – “Building Community in a
Fragmenting World”. Families are becoming fragmented, with members scattered widely
because of jobs. Technology further breaks down relationships, as individuals tap away on their
various devices. Some people are unable to compete in society because they look or act
different. Some are working to build communities, but sometimes this involves building barriers to keep other people out. Overcoming barriers is very difficult for some members of society.
L’Arche was begun by Jean Vanier, who had been a Philosophy Professor at the University of Toronto. He had previously spent some time studying in France, and had been strongly influenced by a friend, Père Thomas. In 1964, he gave up his job in Toronto and returned to France. He visited institutions near Paris, which housed folk with intellectual disabilities, and found that he quite enjoyed meeting and communicating with the inmates. He bought a small house in Trosly, France, in the same village where Père Thomas was now the chaplain for a small home of men with intellectual problems. Vanier set up housekeeping with two of the inmates, and they named their new home L’Arche.
After university, Mary was motivated to learn more about the poor. She read “Tears of Silence” by Jean Vanier, and became interested in the gaps and barriers between people, finding that the main barrier was fear. She started volunteer work at a drop-in centre, where she felt brave enough to play the piano for the members, and she helped out at the Y. In 1973, a L’Arche community was set up in Edmonton, so Mary went there. This was at the time that the government was emptying the mental institutions. Jean Vanier sees the key to community as being celebration and forgiveness. He and a friend founded an organization called Faith and Light, and he arranged the first “Faith and Light”
pilgrimage to Lourdes, with 12,000 travelers, including 4000 with disabilities.
Mary came back to Toronto for studies in Occupational Therapy. She got involved with L’Arche Daybreak, which was the initial L’Arche community in Canada, set up in Richmond Hill in 1969. While there, she encountered Rose, a resident with serious disabilities. The question for Mary and other staff was how to relate to her. They found ways to do this, one being to find out what she liked (noodles, bangles) and to make these available to her. Rose gained confidence, learned to walk upright and had surgery to make eating easier. She lived there for 21 years. There was a transformation in Rose, and in the caregivers as well. One of the mission statements is to make known the gifts of people with developmental disabilities, revealed through mutually transforming relationships.
Mary introduced Sonia to the club members. Sonia, one of the local L’Arche residents, told us that she had been lonely living by herself in an apartment. She moved to L’Arche Stratford, and has been happy there for 41 years.
L’Arche was originally started to respond to people living in institutions. Now there are different challenges, such as the increase in autism, and abortions of Down Syndrome babies. Mary is pleased that Kathleen Wynn has been quite supportive of L’Arche and other ventures to help those with intellectual disabilities.
There are 140 L’Arche communities in 39 countries. L’Arche promotes reaching out, moving against the fear, instead of closing in on ourselves.