L'Arche Saint John grieves loss of founder Jean Vanier
Local memorial services to be held May 21
Two members of the L'Arche community in Saint John will soon be heading to France to attend a private funeral service for the late Jean Vanier, a renowned advocate for an integrated model of living that brought people with and without disabilities together in residential settings, where they lived as equals.
"The model that we all know is a family," said L'Arche Saint John's community leader Zoël Breau.
"So basically that's what it is. We create homes with maybe not more than 10 people and in that home, there are people with intellectual disabilities and what we call the assistants or the staff and we live daily life together."
"We have to plan the menu on Sunday night — who's going to cook what, and who's going to do the cleaning, and who has a doctor's appointment."
Breau and longtime L'Arche resident Stephane Bastarache will represent Saint John at the May 16 service in Trosly-Breuil, France.
That's where Vanier lived after leaving Canada in the 1950s.
In recent months, he'd been hospitalized in Paris, where he was being treated for cancer.
He died Tuesday morning at the age of 90.
Saint John's L'Arche community has expanded into the uptown with a studio space called Creative Connection at 95 Prince William St.
That's where L'Arche residents and others come to express themselves through drawings and sculpture and other projects.
On Wednesday, Krista Simmons was painting a reproduction of a photograph of Vanier sitting near flowers.
"Alone, they cannot do what they're doing, but together, they can do," said Breau.
"Krista is doing some amazing work but probably alone, she would have never done it. But being seen and being inspired, being guided, she's doing amazing work."
Breau and Bastarache said they'll return from Europe the day after Vanier's funeral so they can prepare for services in Saint John.
There will be an ecumenical memorial service on May 21 at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Later that evening, people are welcome to come to Creative Connections to share stories about Vanier.
Breau, who was born and raised in New Brunswick, spent four decades working with L'Arche communities around the world, including Honduras, Ivory Coast and parts of the Middle East.
"His last word to us, 'We are a family and I love you.' That was last week," said Breau.