In the 1960’s, intellectual disability was a hidden world: women and men with an intellectual disability lived isolated from society. From our beginnings, we have been changing the way the world thinks about intellectual disability.
Encouraged by Father Thomas, a Dominican priest who became his spiritual mentor, Jean Vanier invited two people with intellectual disabilities – Philippe Seux and Raphael Simi – to leave their institution and come and live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, which he named “L’Arche.”
The small community grew fast, soon welcoming new people with an intellectual disability and young people from around the world to share their lives. Unforeseen by Vanier, it did not take long for people to decide to create new L’Arche communities in their own countries. And so 1969 saw the creation of the first home in near Toronto, Canada, called Daybreak, the first of many later communities in North America. In the 1970’s, the vision of L’Arche also inspired people to found L’Arche in India, the Ivory Coast and Honduras.
This expansion meant that L’Arche needed to open up to a wide variety of cultures, languages, and social backgrounds. Although founded in the Catholic tradition, L’Arche communities rapidly became ecumenical or inter-religious, finding their point of unity in a common set of human values. Open and engaged in the world, they seek to be a sign of hope and solidarity.
The unexpected expansion of L’Arche on five continents revealed the need for proper structures in order to maintain the unity of L’Arche, and accordingly an International Board was established.