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Kira Brandt, left, and Kristina Roselle worked in the kitchen at a L’Arche home in St. Louis July 1. L’Arch is a community in which adults with disabilities live with assistants and share share day-to-day activities, including meals and chores.
Kira Brandt, left, and Kristina Roselle worked in the kitchen at a L’Arche home in St. Louis July 1. L’Arch is a community in which adults with disabilities live with assistants and share share day-to-day activities, including meals and chores.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

L’Arche community to highlight legacy of Jean Vanier

Respect, love marks community in St. Louis

The death of Jean Vanier in May left a hole in the hearts of many in L’Arche communities across the world.

In L’Arche communities, including one in St. Louis, disabled residents are seen as the core members and treated as individuals with respect and love. Nondisabled and disabled residents live and enjoy life together. The mission is to make known the gifts of people with disabilities.

Vanier, a Canadian Catholic, was the founder of L’Arche. A memorial service celebrating his life and legacy will be held Tuesday, July 16, at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church in St. Louis.

Paula Kilcoyne, executive director and community leader of L’Arche St. Louis, first met Vanier in 1989 as an assistant at a L’Arche community in India, when he came to give a talk and retreat. “For many years after that, he would greet me across a crowded room with lifted arms and a loud, ‘Calcutta Paula!’” she recalled.

Kilcoyne noted that above all Vanier was a follower of Jesus.

“Jean was a theologian, philosopher, writer, and social activist well known for founding the worldwide Federation of L’Arche communities and Faith & Light International,” Kilcoyne wrote after his death at age 90. “Underneath his various roles and achievements was a man who had an unquenchable thirst for peace and unity, and an unshakable conviction in the unique gift and beauty of every human being, each with his or her unique set of gifts and limitations.”

Especially important to the Church, she said, Vanier taught that people with disabilities “are gifted members of our communities whose lives are to be welcomed and honored. He challenged us to reject the model of charity that sees people who are vulnerable through the lens of pity, to a model of friendship and community where everyone matters and the ‘least among us’ are the greatest. Jean spent his life living and teaching a vision of love, inspired by Jesus, that has helped to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life.”

L’Arche St. Louis was founded in 2011. Its board purchased and renovated what was formerly the convent at Immaculate Conception Parish in Maplewood. Core members and assistants share day-to-day activities, including meals, chores, leisure, outings and celebrations.

In St. Louis, the community has three homes with 10 adults with disabilities and 10 assistants who share life with them. Though interreligious, it has ties to several parishes including Immaculate Conception in Maplewood, Cure of Ars in Shrewsbury and St. Francis Xavier (College Church) in St. Louis.

>> Remembrance

WHAT: L’Arche, the Community of Faith and Light and St. Francis Xavier (College Church) Parish will hold an interfaith service celebrating the life and legacy of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche communities and co-founder of Faith and Light.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 16

WHERE: St. Francis Xavier (College) Church, 3628 Lindell Blvd. in St. Louis

ADDITIONAL INFO: A reception will follow the service with light refreshments. Free parking is available in Saint Louis University’s Laclede Garage, Laclede Avenue and Grand Boulevard. For more information, contact office@larchestlouis.org or call (314) 405-8025. Also, visit www.larchestlouis.org.

Vanier permanently changed the fate of intellectually disabled people everywhere by demonstrating how the care of a community could open lives to meaning, joy, hope and trust — not just the lives of disabled people, but the lives also of those who live with them and care for them.

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