The Fabric of L’Arche Family

When I decided to start capturing how L’Arche GWDC is like a family, I thought of Crisely. Crisely was an assistant in DC, the home life leader at Ontario house for many years, and is now our recruitment coordinator. I have witnessed and heard her express how she interacts with L’Arche as family.

Crisely and I sat down in the living room of L’Arche GWDC’s Ontario House, surrounded by all of the photos of L’Arche life going back over 35 years. I asked Crisely how L’Arche is family to her. “It’s kinda overwhelming to talk about,” she replied. “It’s so very much my family that I don’t have to ask ‘oh why is it my family’ because it just is.” Crisely’s son Santiago played on her lap as she pondered the question.

Debora (core member) holds Crisely’s son Santiago

She explained that she first noticed that L’Arche GWDC was her family when she saw her L’Arche family interact with her biological family. When Walton (a core member) visited her family in Florida her dad modified the door frame around the bathroom so it could fit Walton’s wheelchair. Every time you walk in the house you can still see the door frame is a different wood. “There are such physical reminders of my L’Arche family in my biological family.” This is true not only for her parents’ home in Florida –  Crisely pointed out photos of her siblings and parents in the living room in Ontario House.

The two families are now closely intertwined: Crisely’s biological family comes to L’Arche for Thanksgiving each year. “We never had a [Thanksgiving] tradition before that, and now our tradition is to come share it here with over 50 people in this house!”

She smiled as she recounted, “When my sister calls me she asks ‘how’s your family?’ and she means my L’Arche family.”

Crisely told me about a recent experience she had at a career fair at Catholic University. A student came up to her and asked why she had come to L’Arche and why she had stayed. “I suddenly felt so overwhelmed, in a good way! There is so much love there! Part of the reason it was so fresh was that Santiago was there [at the career fair]…this little person who is my flesh and blood…is so woven into the fabric of the L’Arche family.”

Crisely, Santiago, and Johnny (core member) take a selfie

Once she had a child the phrase “it takes a village” became real to Crisely. “And I have a village. Santiago has a village who loves him and reflects that back to him every day. I think of his baptism and how many people were there and the joy in the room. And the huge blessing that it is that Calvin [community member] gets to be his godfather. During my pregnancy Mo, [core member] was my biggest accompanier through all of it. He would sing to ‘Baby Sicko’. [Mo’s nickname for Santiago]. Mo shepherded in the intense love for him.”

As if to demonstrate this love in real-time, a community member walked into the living room as Crisely and I spoke and swept Santiago into her arms.

“Santiago was so blessed, so anointed by the people here,” Crisely continued. “So many first time moms especially feel pretty intense loneliness and isolation from the community and here I have this completely opposite experience. My being a mother gives me the opportunity to connect more with my community.”

Crisely explained that growing up in a military family meant she moved from place to place frequently. Coming to L’Arche was the first time she stayed in one place for a significant length of time. “I had never felt ‘home’ in that way outside of my biological family until I came here.” For Crisely, it was an obvious choice to stay: “When you find home and family why would you leave?”

How is your L’Arche family different? I asked.

“There are so many opportunities for vulnerability within our L’Arche community.” Here you see our “most beautiful selves and our most shadow selves come out. We have the opportunity to be held by this L’Arche family and say ok, we are still here with you in all of that. Sometimes with family outside of L’Arche it’s a little easier to run away from that vulnerability. Here in our L’Arche family, we are encouraged to lean into that with honesty and gentleness with ourselves and each other. And of course there’s the huge gift in the L’Arche family – we are all so different, we are all bringing our own cultural family background into this space…there is a richness there that is sometimes challenging but most of the time magical. Something really good can come out of that.”

A core member walked in and kissed Santiago on the head. Crisely looked over and said, “sometimes I wonder how many kisses he’s gotten on his head and it makes me happy.”

Andrew, Caroline, and Eileen sit with Santiago

She continued, “When I am now talking to applicants in this role [as recruitment coordinator] I explain L’Arche as family. You love each other and you drive each other crazy. One doesn’t go without the other. And I think what allows for the beauty is we hold both of those things: the celebration and forgiveness of each other.”

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Blog by Mary Ellen Dingley, Communications and Outreach Coordinator