Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, communities spread over 37 countries for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. Register file photo

Jean Vanier offers a life lesson in his memoir

  • October 10, 2018

At 90, Jean Vanier is something more than an eminent man of great accomplishment, more than a national treasure who belongs to the Order of Canada, the Order of Quebec, France’s Legion of Honour and holds the 2015 Templeton Prize. 

Today, when the founder of L’Arche speaks, the global village turns to hear a rare voice of wisdom.

Available now at Novalis, Vanier’s 32nd book stands in contrast to a culture which celebrates getting more and having more — more fame, more money, more power. A Cry is Heard: My Path to Peace is Vanier’s best book in years, worth reading slowly and carefully, Vanier’s old friend and collaborator at L’Arche Daybreak Sr. Sue Mosteller told The Catholic Register.

Officially launched at St. Michael’s College on Sept. 25, the new Vanier title written in collaboration with Francois-Xavier Maigre, is both a memoir of his extraordinary life and a gift to the next generation, Mosteller said.

“He would like to have a younger audience,” Mosteller said. “There is a kind of quality of the tribal elder here.”

Novalis, the Canadian arm of the French Catholic publishing house Bayard, translated the book into English and holds the rights to the English edition. They’ve sold those rights simultaneously to Catholic publishers in the United States and the United Kingdom who are printing thousands of copies in anticipation of a best seller. Novalis ordered an initial print run 25 per cent higher than anything else the small Canadian publisher will bring out this year. A new Vanier title is a very big deal in religious publishing and Novalis knows A Cry is Heard will be its leading title this fall, said Novalis English publishing director Joe Sinasac.

Much more personal than Vanier’s 1998 Massey Lectures, which became the best-selling Becoming Human, Mosteller felt compelled to read A Cry is Heard twice.

“I was inspired by this book,” she said. “It’s one of his best books.”

For someone to write about their path to peace is extraordinary in an era of road rage, workplace bullying and short fuses, Mosteller said.

“We’re all angry,” she said. “More than ever today — with all the anger and the need to just control and show that I’m better than you. Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the happiness?”

Rather than mere self-help, Vanier points his readers in the direction of Christian wisdom.

“It is an urgent message for this time,” Mosteller said. “It’s not about letting go of power. It’s about entering into relationships … which are so important because we’re so broken in that area. We’re all fighting each other and we’re all angry — so much more than ever today.”

Mosteller and a host of idealistic young people first learned about community from Vanier as they struggled to build L’Arche Daybreak beginning in 1969. Mosteller became the first director of the radical new community which welcomed and cared for the intellectually disabled in what was then the rural outskirts of the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill.

As a former philosophy professor at St. Michael’s College, Vanier was frequently invited to Toronto to lecture and would stay with the L’Arche community and speak to them about what it means to live with the most vulnerable and broken. For Mosteller and her friends, that time spent with Vanier was more than an opportunity to connect with the founder of their movement. It was also a chance to know a man who was a channel of grace.

“The way I know him is that he is entrenched in who he is as a Christian,” she said. “His call was to be in relationship and to learn, to deepen his Christianity. And that’s what he did.”

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