L’Arche founder Jean Vanier lived in Trosly, France. Courtesy photo

In 1964 Jean Vanier visited the deplorable institutions where people with intellectual disabilities were warehoused and his heart was stirred to action.


The first L’Arche home was established when Jean purchased a small house in Trosly-Breuil, France, and invited Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux to move out of an institution to live with him.


He hoped he could help them – and he did. But Raphaël and Philippe helped him even more by teaching him what it truly means to love and be loved.


A worldwide movement was sparked and L’Arche became an international federation of 155 member communities, established as independent entities in 38 countries on five continents. The communities include more than 10,000 people with and without an intellectual disability, who share their lives in homes, workshops and day programs. Within L’Arche USA, there are eighteen independent communities, including L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.


Michael Schaff and Dottie Bockstiegel receive gifts honoring their role in starting L'Arche GWDC in 1983. Photo by Bethany Keener

Michael Schaff and Dottie Bockstiegel receive gifts honoring their role in starting L’Arche GWDC and their 30 years of membership in the community. Photo by Bethany Keener

L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C., was founded in 1983 on Ontario Road in Adams Morgan. Some of the first core people came from Forest Haven, Washington, D.C.’s notorious institution for people with intellectual disabilities. A second home was opened in 1988 on Euclid Street, just around the corner. L’Arche expanded to Arlington, Virginia, with a home on South Highland Street in Arlington Heights in 2006, and the fourth home opened nearby on South Sixth Street in 2010.


Today, a total of 13 core people call L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. home, and a wide circle has formed around them to become a community of belonging and welcome.


Jean Vanier passed away in France in 2019. He was 90 years old. His beautifully penned thoughts about living in community continue to inspire people who are seeking to live gently, love fully, and give themselves freely. In 2015, he was awarded the Templeton Prize, one of the world’s largest annual awards given to an individual and honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.