The name “L’Arche” is French for "The Ark," as in “Noah’s Ark.” L’Arche is a worldwide organization welcoming people from many different faith traditions, as well as people who have no formal affiliation with any particular faith tradition.
In 1964, through his friendship with a Dominican priest, Father Thomas Philippe, Jean Vanier became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities. Jean Vanier felt led by God to invite two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they resided and share their lives with him in a real home in Trosly-Breuil, France. He named their home L'Arche. From this original community in France, 130 other communities have been founded throughout the world in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America.
The first community in Canada was founded in 1969 in Richmond Hill near Toronto, Ontario. The first community in the UK was founded in 1973 in Barfrestone, Kent through the efforts of Jean Vanier's sister, Therese.
Although L'Arche communities are found in many different cultures and reflect the ethnic and religious composition of the locales in which they exist, they share a common philosophy and approach. People with developmental disabilities and those who assist them live and work together to create homes. The L'Arche Charter says, "In a divided world, l'Arche wants to be a sign of hope. Its communities, founded on covenant relationships between people of differing intellectual capacity, social origin, religion and culture, seek to be signs of unity, faithfulness and reconciliation. The Charter further outlines the objectives, the principles and the identity of l’Arche. All the Communities of the International Federation are committed to living these principles.
In March, 2008, the international councils of L'Arche and other founded by Jean Vanier movement for disabled people Faith and Light met for the first time in joint meeting in Lviv, Ukraine. The international council of L’Arche was represented by 30 persons from 14 countries, and the international council of Faith and Light was represented by 19 persons from 17 countries, including France, Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain, Ireland, India, Canada, USA, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Uganda, New Zealand, Philippines, and Italy.
L'Arche Communities are funded differently, depending on where they are located. In the UK and in other developed countries, they are funded by the relevant government body. Other Communities rely on local donations and donations from other L'Arche Communities.
Challenge of L'Arche, 1982, Jean Vanier A Blessed Weakness: Spirit of Jean Vanier and L'Arche, 1989, Michael Downey
Arc for the Poor: The Story of L'Arche (L'Arche Collection), 1995, Jean Vanier
Encounter with Mystery: Reflections on L'Arche and Living with Disability, 1997, Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd, editor Frances Young
The Miracle the Message the Story: Jean Vanier and L'Arche, 2006, Kathryn Spink
Enough Room for Joy: The Early Days of Jean Vanier's L'Arche, 2007, Jean Vanier and Bill, S.J. Clarke
Community and Growth, reprinted 1989, Jean Vanier, Paulist Press