L’Arche community founder features in new film

L’Arche community founder features in new film

Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, the international organisation that offers residential communities in which intellectually disabled and non-disabled members live together. L’Arche came to New Zealand 25 years ago, with the foundation of a community in Paraparaumu, which still thrives there today.

Vanier, a Catholic man, single-handedly revolutionised the way in which people with an intellectual disability are seen and cared for, by the simple act of inviting them out of institutions and into his home in the 1960s. ‘Meeting’ some of the current residents of that home in Trosly-Breuil, France, is one of the many highlights of Summer in the Forest, a beautiful and moving study of this extraordinary man and the organisation he founded.

In addition to his profound message about the intrinsic value of people with disabilities, Jean also challenges us all to be open to and respectful of all people,  and he challenges us to go beyond the fortress of our own beliefs and to respect and value other beliefs.

Film screenings:

  • Auckland: Newmarket Rialto, 31 July 6:00pm
  • Palmerston North: Events Cinema, 7 August 6:00pm
  • Paraparaumu: 31 July 6:00pm
  • Wellington: Roxy Cinema, 24 July 6:30pm
  • Christchurch: Hoyts Northlands, 31 July 6:30pm
  • Dunedin: Rialto Cinema 11 July 6:00pm

About Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier died May 7th in the Maison Médicale Jeanne Garnier in Paris. He was 90 years old. L’Arche International is still grieving his loss.

Swiss-born Jean Vanier was gentle, quietly-spoken and humble. Considered a man of deep compassion and a humble prophet in the struggle to “become more fully human,” Jean Vanier was not only honoured but deeply beloved by the residents and assistants of L’Arche around the world.

The son of a Canadian diplomat, Vanier served in the British and Canadian Royal Navies as a young man. After leaving a promising career there—“feeling called to a different life”—he found himself in France. In 1964, through the influence of his friendship with a Catholic priest, Father Thomas Philippe, Vanier invited two men with disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the horrific conditions of the institutions where they lived and to share their lives with him in a house in Trosly-Breuil, France.

Decades ago it was a radical experiment to remove those with disabilities from institutions. For all three men it was the beginning of a new life, wholly different than anything they had known before. It was, after some months of trial and error, the beginning of an extraordinary human adventure. Jean recalled: “Essentially, they wanted a friend. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.” Within a short time, other homes were founded, and Jean Vanier sent out a call for help with the work. Young people from France, Canada, England and Germany answered the call to become “assistants” living with people with intellectual disabilities. L’Arche was born.

Jean has spent more than four decades as a deeply radical advocate for the poor and the weak in our society, calling people, in his quiet way, to recognize the profound gifts and lessons that people who have been rejected by society can offer when they are properly supported and included. Jean has received numerous awards, including the French Legion of Honor, Companion of the Order of Canada, Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award, the Blessed are the Peacemakers Award from the Chicago Catholic Theological Union, and the 2015 Templeton Prize for an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.

About the film


Like countless others Philippe, Michel, Andre and Patrick were labeled ‘idiots’, locked away and forgotten in violent asylums, until the 1960s, when the young philosopher Jean Vanier took a stand and secured their release – the first time in history that anyone had beaten the system. Together they created L’Arche, a commune at the edge of a beautiful forest near Paris. A quiet revolution was born.

Now in his 80s, and still at L’Arche, Jean has discovered something that most of us have forgotten – what it is to be human, to be foolish, and to be happy.

Summer in the Forest invites us to abandon the rat race and forge new friendships. Amid the ancient trees, Philippe, Patrick, Jean and the others welcome us into their lives. If there are rules to break, they will be broken and if there is a truth to be told, they will tell it.


The first New Zealand L’Arche Community was founded in Paraparaumu twenty-five years ago and today has grown to three houses where ten people with intellectual disabilities live with a number of others from around the world.  A second community, L’Arche Mt Tabor, joined the Federation in 2017 after having operated for a number of years as an independent community based on the same principles as L’Arche.  Faith & Light has had a strong presence in New Zealand, having been founded in 1986.  It now communities throughout the country.