The pain of the revelations about Jean Vanier has been scorching, says his Canadian biographer
I knew the name Jean Vanier for years before I met him. Canadians held his father and mother – the vice-regal couple, Their Excellencies, the Governor-General Georges Vanier and his wife, Pauline, – in exalted regard. Their cosmopolitan and diplomatic history ensured the special affection in which they were held by the Canadian population in general, but particularly by the Canadian Catholic population. They were both people of deep prayer, boldly not demurely Catholic, but by no means aggressively apologetical. They were an elegant couple and disported themselves and their convictions with estimable detachment.
I was in a seminary in 1967 and we had heard of another Vanier who for a brief period taught ethics and sexuality at the University of St Michael’s College in Toronto. We lamented his loss to the local church when, in 1964, he established with the moral support of his “spiritual father”, the Dominican friar, Thomas Philippe, the first L’Arche home in Trosly-Breuil.
After I left the seminary to pursue graduate studies in English literature, to marry, and to settle into a distinctly non-clerical way of being, Vanier was a kind of spiritual lodestar for me and for countless others: an academically distinguished layperson doing revolutionary things in a non-academic setting and doing it all as a lay Catholic.