L'Arche UK Release: We are deeply saddened to announce that Thérèse Vanier has passed away on Monday 16th June 2014.
Thérèse was an inspiration, a courageous and visionary woman. The sister of Jean Vanier, Thérèse co-founded L'Arche in the UK.
"She died very peacefully at home at St Peter's in Lambeth. Do pray for Jean, Michel and all their family, for all Therese's friends, and for the Community of L'Arche in London. We give thanks for her life, her love and her faithfulness," writes John Sargent, L'Arche in the UK country leader.
Thérèse was the eldest child and only daughter of Georges and Pauline Vanier.
During the War, she joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, and the Free French organization, as a result of which she was awarded the Croix de Guerre from the French government.
She went on to study medicine at Cambridge. Her outstanding scholarship helped her secure a place at St. Thomas’ Hospital where she was a contemporary of Cicely Saunders, who founded St. Christopher’s, the first hospice in the world for terminally ill patients, where Therese later worked. Her successful medical career saw her appointed the first female consultant hematologist at St. Thomas’, London.
Thérèse was an early and frequent visitor to the first L'Arche community, founded by her brother Jean in France in 1964. And it was Thérèse, practical, capable and quietly determined, who finally brought L’Arche over the Channel to the UK.
A woman of faith and discreet determination, she had no firm idea how to achieve her aim, but soon found herself surrounded by a small group, including Ann and Geoffrey Morgan, who shared her passion. Within a couple of years the first L’Arche Community of people with and without a disability, started sharing life together, in a former Anglican vicarage, near Canterbury. Therese has always insisted that it was this group and not her alone who founded L’Arche in the UK.
From our present-day perspective, it is hard to grasp just how revolutionary this community must have seemed in January 1974, when for many people with a learning disability, home was likely to be a vast institution. Under Thérèse’s guidance, the community began to discover and promote the hitherto unsuspected talents of people still viewed as passive receivers, rather than active and distinct contributors to society’s progress.
For several years she managed to combine leadership of the fledgling L'Arche in the UK with a part-time medical career as a consultant physician at St. Christopher’s hospice in London. Her clarity of thought and fluency in French and English made her a valued lecturer on palliative care across the world, notably in her native Canada. At the same time and with astonishing energy, she oversaw the development of four further L'Arche communities in the UK, including one in Lambeth, south London, where she remained a member until her death.
Thérèse fostered similar work in Ireland and Denmark in her role as a L’Arche regional co-ordinator in Northern Europe. Under her leadership, L’Arche became a founder member of the Association of Residential Care (ARC), and she also served ten years as a committee member and trustee of NACCAN (National Association of Christian Communities & Networks.)
A deeply committed Roman Catholic, Thérèse Vanier’s involvement with L'Arche, which welcomes people of all faiths and none to share community life, led her into the ecumenical movement in the UK. She wrote several booklets on this theme, including, Nick, man of the heart, a short spiritual biography of her friend Nick Elleker, a disabled Anglican member of L'Arche Lambeth, who was himself a committed ecumenist.
Thérèse Vanier lived near the L’Arche Community in Lambeth, London. She died at 91.