One of the great figures of the 20th century, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, a worldwide network of homes for persons with intellectual or physical disabilities, died peacefully in the early morning hours of May 7th, surrounded by his loved ones in Trosly-Breuil, France where he lived for over 50 years. He was 90.
Vanier, the winner of the Templeton Prize and countless other awards, received an honorary doctorate from Ave Maria University in June 2017 when AMU President Jim Towey and his wife, Mary, visited him in Paris. The University’s Board of Trustees voted to confer this distinction upon Vanier for his lifelong witness to his Catholic faith and fearless advocacy for the rights of the developmentally disabled. Because Vanier no longer traveled outside of Europe, the honorary degree was presented on behalf of the AMU trustees by the Toweys at a private lunch in his honor.
“I had the privilege of knowing Jean for nearly 35 years and his life as philosopher, best-selling author, founder of L’Arche communities throughout the world, and friend of the poor and rejected, will continue to influence all those who read his writings, visit L’Arche homes, or ponder his life’s meaning,” Towey said. “His insights into the heart of Jesus, particularly through his study of the Gospel of John, evidence his close and continuous walk with the Lord over these many decades. He will be sorely missed. I am happy he is at home with his beloved Father.”
Vanier’s funeral Mass will be held next week in the small community in France where he founded L’Arche in 1964. His Holiness Pope Francis issued a special statement in honor of Vanier’s valiant life and countless humanitarian achievements. During his lifetime many considered Vanier to be a living saint. He was a friend and adviser to the last four popes and a leader in the inter-religious dialogue in which the Church engages.