Skip to main content

Jean Vanier, poses outside his home in Trosly-Breuil, in this picture taken March 7, 2015. Vanier, a Canadian who launched an international network of communities for the mentally disabled, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize worth $1.7 million for affirming life's spiritual dimension March 11, 2015. The U.S.-based John Templeton Foundation announced the award on Wednesday in London, calling him "this extraordinary man" whose message of compassion for society's weakest members "has the potential to change the world for the better". Vanier, 86, founded the first L'Arche ("Ark") community in 1964 when he invited two mentally disabled men to leave their large institution and live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, a village 95 km (60 miles) north of Paris. Picture taken March 7, 2015. REUTERS/Tom Heneghan (FRANCE - Tags: HEADSHOT SOCIETY RELIGION)


The ideals of humanity, to say nothing of humanity itself, have been made better by Jean Vanier.

The 86-year-old Canadian, son of the 19th Governor-General, disenchanted naval officer, restless philosopher and unbounded explorer of the soul, was awarded the $2.1-million Templeton Prize last week for his exceptional contribution "to affirming life's spiritual dimension."

Spirituality is too often defined within sectarian limits. But the values expressed by Jean Vanier, as he's lived a humble life of compassion for wounded humanity, transcend the Biblical message and Catholic theology that inspired him.

Story continues below advertisement

In 1964, troubled by the grim state of psychiatric institutions he'd visited after finishing a doctoral dissertation on Aristotle's principle of happiness, Mr. Vanier invited two mentally disabled men to leave their hospital and come to live with him in a French village.

This was the beginning of a now-global community called L'Arche, named for Noah's Ark – a refuge. Drawing on his own transformative experience, Mr. Vanier saw how doing good was mutually beneficial – people without egos or an inflated idea of success brought their so-called normal counterparts down to size. By doing so, they awakened a sense of humanity lost in the combative world of ego, ambition, and economic winners and losers.

In this challenging vision, it's not until we share our lives with people who've been rejected by society that we come to recognize our own flaws and deeper needs. Mr. Vanier had the courage and the humanity to turn his spirituality into action. As his Templeton nomination eloquently states, he "exposed his ideas to the most challenging test of all – real people, real problems, real life."

Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Please note that our commenting partner Civil Comments is closing down. As such we will be implementing a new commenting partner in the coming weeks. As of December 20th, 2017 we will be shutting down commenting on all article pages across our site while we do the maintenance and updates. We understand that commenting is important to our audience and hope to have a technical solution in place January 2018.

Discussion loading… ✨