As a young Canadian living in France, Jean Vanier was at the forefront of what gradually became the widely accepted movement to de-institutionalize people who had developmental disabilities.

Distressed by the scandalous conditions he saw in institutions, in 1964 Jean Vanier invited two men with developmental disabilities to live with him – an act unheard of at the time. He named their small house “L’Arche,” after Noah’s Ark.

The three created home life together, sharing daily tasks and times of relaxation as would a family. Soon they welcomed more men and women with developmental disabilities and many young assistants, from various countries including Canada, who wanted to share in this unique experience of living in community.

As L’Arche grew, it opened other homes in the village and started small work projects and creative studios where fine hand-crafted items were made. When assistants returned to their home countries they carried the vision of L’Arche with them.

Vanier very quickly discovered that the people whom he had befriended had much to give him and to teach him about life. This awareness is fundamental to L’Arche and is what continues to attract many of the assistants who come to L’Arche. Jean Vanier is recipient of numerous honours recognizing his humanitarian work and his leadership as a social visionary, among them the Companion of the Order of Canada, the Legion of Honour (France), the Pope Paul VI International Prize, and Templeton Prize 2015.


After spending a year in France, Steve and Ann Newroth brought Jean Vanier’s vision home with them. In 1969, with the gift of a large house and some property, the first community outside France opened in Canada. In the 70s, L’Arche grew rapidly around the world. L’Arche continues to grow as every year new communities are opened.