The return to God of Jean Vanier, May 7, 2019
Tuesday, May 7, 2019 at 11:19PM
Maureen O'Riordan in Jean Vanier, Pere Pichon, Therese de Salaberry Archer

Jean Vanier in 2012. Photo credit: Wikipedia    I was both joyful and saddened to learn that Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, died this morning at the age of 90 in Paris.  Vanier is one of Therese's best-known and, if I may say so, most faithful disciples.  The powerful connection between him and St. Therese has an historical root.  In 1890, while St. Therese was still alive, Father Almire Pichon, a Jesuit priest whom St. Louis Martin liked to call "the spiritual director of the Martin family," then in Canada, had begun to give spiritual direction to another teenager named Therese: Therese de Salaberry Archer.  Madame Archer, who maintained her friendship with Fr. Pichon until his death, became the mother of Pauline Archer Vanier, Jean Vanier's mother. 

I have had the joy of being among those who received the "Letters from Jean."  In his letter of April 2016 he recounts going on pilgrimage to Lisieux with a group from L'Arche.  While there, he 

rediscovered Therese, little Therese, and the little way that she opened up for us--that is to say, living in trust, believing in mercy.  She died at the age of 24.  My God, what extraordinary progress she made in her life!  And, through her, God has worked wonders in renewing the Church in faith, love, and  trust in Jesus. 

Read the full "letter from Jean Vanier," in which Jean speaks of how Therese teaches us to live in community.  

For more background on Father Pichon, read my article "Almire Pichon, S.J. and Marie Martin, the sister of St. Therese of Lisieux."

The Internet is already filling up with tributes to this humble but great figure of faith.  I can add only these lines about his connection with Therese.  But you may enjoy reading the story of his life in "A Joy, Not a Nuisance: What the Disabled  Taught Jean Vanier" by Michael W. Higgins (Commonweal, December 15, 2015). 

You may also see the Web page created by L'Arche for Jean Vanier, where you may read about his life and leave a tribute, at

A representative of L'Arche has announced that Jean's funeral will be on Thursday, May 16 (more than a week from now) at 2:00 p.m. French time in Trosly-Breuil, France.  Because he wanted an intimate funeral, the ceremony is private, but it will be broadcast live on French TV (  An English translation will be available at that same channel.

Few people have lived Therese's way so powerfully.  May Jean inspire us and intercede for us until we share the complete union with God into which he was received today.  

Article originally appeared on Saint Therese of Lisieux (
See website for complete article licensing information.