The Seeds of L’Arche
Arriving at L’Arche Daybreak in 1972, Sr. Sue Mosteller, a Sister of St. Joseph, became the second Community Leader, and later the first International Leader after Jean Vanier. She currently serves on the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. The following are notes from her talk at Kelly library, Toronto, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche on Oct. 22, 2014.
L’Arche is a very small reality, touching the lives of very few people. It is very fragile and dependent on the inner gifts of each one to be given and received. But this wisdom of L’Arche is universal and can be lived in each family, town, community, business, church, and in our world.
Jean Vanier encountered people with intellectual disabilities in a large institution in France and felt called to respond. He trusted the call, bought a house, and welcomed Raphael and Philippe 1964. Vanier’s vision was small, involving no more than four people, but Steve and Ann came from Canada and Mira from India. When they were to return home, wanting L’Arche in their countries, Jean trusted them. L’Arche began in Canada and India and spread in France.
The needs of brothers and sisters in our world today are still far from being met. We are not asked to ‘save the world,’ but to live in our own milieu as fully as we can, encountering, caring, trusting and loving each other as best we can — and being an example for others as well as being changed by the beauty and care we receive from others.
At first we didn’t realize the treasure of the people with disabilities, but felt that – if we met them, cared for them, and loved them, they would be transformed. We didn’t realize that, we also would be transformed by them. One of our residents was Rosie Decker who gradually awakened from being a small, disabled, silent (except for her screams!), removed individual, to become an incredible mentor and teacher to hundreds of assistants — most of all to Zenia. Zenia, transformed by Rosie, went to Ukraine and did very much to change the lives of a generation of families with disabled people, young people, and the Church itself — during 25 years.
We didn’t realize that if we met the people with disabilities, cared for them, and loved them, that we too, would be transformed by them. One example is that of Henri Nouwen himself – who came as a popular teacher, writer, priest and lecturer, but nervous and anxious and not always at peace with some of his own weaknesses. Henri was invited to help Adam with his morning routine. Adam was a wonderful man with deep disabilities who did not speak or walk on his own, nor was he able to do anything for himself with respect to personal care. Henry said, “I was afraid every morning to go into the room of this stranger. I never believed I could “get to know Adam,” because Adam couldn’t talk, so how could I?” And after a year, Henri could say, “Adam became my friend, my teacher, and my guide, etc….”
The treasures we’ve been unwrapping for the past 50 years include trust, the need to recognize every person as someone who is fully human, and that living and working together in community, family, church, and society transforms us all.
By Sue Mosteller CSJ
Sister Sue’s complete talk can be heard by clicking here.