Number of people who share life in L'Arche around the world
Number of L'Arche communities in the U.S.A.
Number of L'Arche communities around the world

“L’Arche was not my project, but God’s.”

In 1964 a young man by the name Jean Vanier visited asylums throughout France where people with intellectual disabilities were sent to spend their days hidden away from society. Jean was overwhelmed by what he saw and the atmosphere of sadness within the concrete walls where men walked in circles.

Jean’s spiritual mentors suggested he do “something.” That something was to ask friends and family to help him purchase a small, run-down home in Trosly-Breuil, France, so he could invite Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux to move out of an institution to live with him.

Jean asked his friend Jacqueline d’Halluin to help him come up with a name for this community where people with and without intellectual disabilities would live together and create a new kind of family. She suggested L’Arche, which means “the ark” in French (in English, it is pronounced as rhyming with marsh).

Only later did Jean realize the symbolism of the word. The story of a boat of salvation for God’s people appears in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu scripture as well as they mythology of other early cultures, and aptly symbolizes a place where people can find safety from life’s raging storms.

L’Arche began to grow in France, and in 1968 Jean was invited to give a retreat in Canada. He agreed, and a group of religious and lay people gathered together for eight days. Following the retreat, Sr. Rosemarie Donovan, the superior of Our Lady’s Missionaries, offered L’Arche their former novitiate house in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto. Steve and Ann Newroth began L’Arche Daybreak in October 1969. (Later, priest and theologian Henri Nouwen would spend the last ten years of his life at L’Arche Daybreak and be profoundly transformed by life with people who have disabilities.)

Today, there are 147 communities worldwide, including 18 in the United States. The communities consist of approximately 8,000 members with and without intellectual disabilities who share their lives together in homes and workplaces.

For a person with intellectual disabilities, L’Arche may be a place to live independently, or in a household with others, and/or a place of work through daytime programs and activities. At all times, it is a place of support and guidance that adapts as well as possible to the needs of each individual.

For employees and volunteers, L’Arche is a place of work that is oriented towards accompanying and supporting people with intellectual disabilities. Such support shows itself in the simple gestures of everyday life at home or in the workplace. For those living in the community household, L’Arche is also their home.