A Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School delegation poses with the school’s namesake in front of the L’Arche centre. Photo courtesy of Dunn Media

Milton high school learns to serve others in Vanier Way documentary

By  Steven Travale, Youth Speak News
  • April 29, 2016

When Brian Dunn became the chaplaincy leader at the new Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Milton, Ont., he had a mission to create an environment where the school namesake’s example dwelled within the students.

So Dunn contacted Vanier at his home in Trosly, France, and told him about this mission. Vanier replied with a video message, which was presented during the inaugural assembly and blessing of the school three years ago.

“If you’re going to name a school after me, you should make sure you are living out the ways that I embrace,” said Vanier.

That is where it all began for Dunn, who took the message to heart. In April 2015, Dunn decided to take 10 students to meet Vanier and spend time with the mentally and physically disabled in one of the homes he established in his international organization, L’Arche. He contacted his film producer brother Kevin about the possibility of documenting their experience, and he leapt at the chance.

“I thought it would make for a wonderfully inspirational program,” said Kevin. “To be a fly on the wall as the students experience L’Arche for the first time and meet their school’s namesake.”

The Vanier Way premiered on EWTN on April 16. The poignant documentary follows the spiritual journey of Dunn and 10 students who learned what exactly it is that Vanier wants for young people.

At first, the students, many of whom hadn’t even heard of Vanier before their school opened, were unsettled and nervous. However, it becomes clear, through touching testimonials and interviews by the students, that L’Arche and the people that call it home became like a second family to the Canadian visitors.

“Not only was it the core members that the students were affected by, but also the core leaders and their dedication to service, and joy in their service to the most vulnerable,” said Brian.

With each encounter, the students grew closer and closer to fully understanding what the Vanier Way truly was: expressing themselves and learning self-worth through service to others. Most students said in heartfelt discussion that it was the core members who taught them, citing their happiness, friendliness and love of life.

The time the group spent with Vanier himself left quite an impact. He encouraged the students, who face their own pressures and challenges at home, to value themselves. His resounding message, central to his entire life’s work, was that each and every person is “more precious than they dare believe.”

“If my vision is individual religiosity, then what happens?” asked Vanier of the students. “Loneliness.”

While Vanier shared some of his wisdom, he preferred asking questions of the students and learning about them, deflecting attention from himself.
Brian said the trip was so impactful that some students now want to dedicate time to serve as a core leader in the future. Others have grown in their faith and self-confidence so much that friends and family have noticed a positive difference.

“When I interviewed Vanier himself, he sat down and was able to give a message to me, that spoke directly to the audience we were trying to touch. It was though the Holy Spirit was in the room,” said Kevin. “You can’t describe it. He speaks with such peace and so much wisdom.”

The Dunns hope the desire to lead and follow the Vanier Way will extend to the audience.

“Each young person, or adult, (can) relate to someone in the program, and see themselves in there and see the joy that comes from serving the vulnerable, the people that give more than they take,” said Kevin. “Our faith is (more) than religion class. It’s a call to action.”

The Vanier Way will be running again on EWTN in the coming weeks. DVD copies will also be made available through its catalogue.

(Travale, 18, is a Grade 12 student at Sacred Heart High School in Walkerton, Ont.)

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