Patrick Fontaine, International Leader
Patrick was born in Toulouse, France in 1951, the youngest of five children. His father was a commercial representative and his mother left her profession as a nurse when the children began to arrive. Patrick went to a Jesuit secondary school and was appreciatively influenced by their pedagogy, spirituality and their openness to the world. For several years, he was a member of an international group of young Christians interested in Mission and Development in the world. It was in this group that he met Monique, his future wife.
During the 70’s, sometimes together, sometimes separately, Patrick and Monique were involved in the support of immigrant workers, and then in a Christian Non-Violence group. Influenced by their involvement in the Charismatic Renewal and the Taize community, they became members of a student community of prayer that welcomed “friends from the street” who were struggling with alcohol-related problems. This first, challenging experience of community came to an end when Patrick and Monique married in 1976. Shortly afterwards, they discovered L’Arche through a brief visit to La Grande Source in Trosly… then they spent a year in Tunisia where Patrick studied and both of them developed an affinity for the
Arab-Muslim culture as well as some good and faithful friendships in one of the first centres for persons with disabilities in the Maghreb (North West Africa). When they returned to Toulouse, France in 1979, Monique left her job as a biology teacher and they moved to the Charente region of France where Patrick began a year of Civil Service in the L’Arche community of La Merci. They discovered a very intense community and spiritual life. They had the impression of living from one celebration to another. They formed deep friendships within the community…. After the Civil Service, they chose to remain members of the community and Patrick set up practice in the town of Cognac as a general practitioner and later on, as a specialist in acupuncture. Their daughter, Camille, and then Melanie, Pauline, Lucie and Myriam were born and grew up in this novel family environment that included a weekly evening in La Seve, the L’Arche home to which they were attached.
In 1989, Patrick was asked if he would accept to become the community leader of La Merci. It was an unexpected call as well as a bit of a shock. It would mean giving up his medical practice and the patients that he cared for. It would also mean a change in the life-style to which the family had become accustomed. Still, Patrick and Monique felt that they could say “yes”. Today, they do not regret their decision, but they recognise that their community accompaniment was a great help to them during this time. The community and the long term members taught Patrick his new role. Ten wonderful years passed, filled with challenges and growth, as well as tensions. Today, Patrick believes that he should have been able to avoid many of the tensions.
Patrick had the good fortune to be part of the preparations of the Federation meeting in Paray le Monial in 1998. It was at this time that he became the coordinator of the Southern European and Middle East Zone. The encounter with so much diversity of communities and cultures gave him the opportunity to progress in his English and his Spanish, but above all, it challenged and expanded his ideas and certitudes concerning L’Arche. And even more, in the contexts of poverty, oppression, war, the relationships between members of L’Arche are a powerful sign of contradiction that can disturb and mobilise. The experience for Patrick was that of a privileged witness. “It is like treasures that are placed in one’s hand for which one feels indebted”…
In 2010, the accompaniment of the more isolated communities in the Federation was confided to eight delegate coordinators that Patrick has accompanied and supported during the last 18 months.
Monique is the unseen presence in Patrick’s mission; the one who is home alone when he is away. All the children are now on their own. Monique serves the L’Arche community of Cognac as a member of the accompaniment service. She is also on the team that facilitates the spiritual life of the community.
Patrick and Monique have been members of L’Arche for 32 years.