Nova Scotia

Jean Vanier remembered as a 'rare gift' for his influence in Atlantic Canada

The leader of L'arche communities in the Atlantic region is remembering the founder of the charity as a man who celebrated the simple interactions in life.

'I think in particular, here in Atlantic Canada, we felt especially close to Jean'

L'Arche started in northern France in 1964 now has some 147 communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

The leader of L'Arche communities in the Atlantic region is remembering the founder of the charity as a man who celebrated the simple interactions in life.

Jenn Power says Jean Vanier, who died Tuesday in Paris at the age of 90, was a frequent visitor to Canada's East Coast.

"I think in particular, here in Atlantic Canada, we felt especially close to Jean," Power said.

She points out that many of the founders of local communities were his close friends.

"Also, Jean had a really deep appreciation and love for the Mi'kmaw people and the Mi'kmaw culture, and so he made a number of visits to this part of the world as a result of that."

L'Arche communities continue to grow in Atlantic Canada. In Wolfville, N.S., Brenda Henshaw uses the loom to make placemats. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

L'Arche provides housing, work and support for adults with intellectual and sometimes physical disabilities, who live and work together as peers with people without disabilities.

Power first met Vanier when she became the leader of the Cape Breton community, when she was just 22 years old. She flew to France to spend a few days with him to learn more about his vision.

"I felt like he had all the time in the world for me and that nothing else was important while we were together except what I was saying and his attentiveness to me. He had an incredible gift of presence," Power said.

"It's very rare that you get to meet a person who lives what they talk about.

"I think it's a rare gift to have somebody where your words and your actions are so closely aligned."

On Tuesday, each L'Arche community gathered to share stories of Vanier.

Power said one woman in Cape Breton remembered when she was sitting beside Vanier at a meal, and she struggled to cut her food. Vanier quickly helped her.

"When she talks about that, she still — years and years later — bubbles up with joy and gratitude," Power said.

"Those are the places where Jean put value, on these simple interactions in everyday life, where we turn to the person next to us and treat them with love and respect."

Power said Vanier's legacy will remain strong in Atlantic Canada. She said this is the only part of the country where the charity is growing, with new communities planned for New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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