Jean Vanier was born on September 10, 1928, and is the son of the late Pauline Vanier and George Vanier, who was Governor General of Canada from 1959-67. At the age of thirteen Jean joined the Navy, where he served for nine years. He then went on to study philosophy and theology, pursuing his education in England, Canada, and France. He ultimately received his doctorate in philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Paris, focusing on the thought of Aristotle.
In 1964, with the support of his spiritual director Father Thomas Philippe, Jean invited two men with intellectual disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to live with him, and L’Arche was born.
While L’Arche was developing around the world in the sixties and seventies, Jean founded two other international organizations: Faith and Sharing, and Faith and Light. In Faith and Sharing retreats, people from all walks of life gather in their communities to share the Gospel. Faith and Light, which Jean founded with Marie Helen Mathieu, is a network of groups comprised of people with intellectual disabilities, their parents and friends. These groups meet regularly to discuss their hopes and difficulties, and to pray together.
Jean stepped down a number of years ago as head of the International Federation of L’Arche. He continues to write and to spread the message of L’Arche. For many years, Jean traveled a great deal, visiting L’Arche communities all over the world, encouraging projects for new communities, and giving lectures and retreats. Now that he is in his eighties, his traveling has become much less frequent, and he spends the majority of his time in his home community in Trosly.