From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane’s L’Arche community has international roots 25 years deep

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register

(From the Aug. 2, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

L’Arche Spokane has had a community in the area since 1976. That’s 25 years, and the people who make up the community are having a party to celebrate.

The event will be held Saturday, Aug. 11, starting with Mass in the student chapel at Gonzaga University at 4 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

Following Mass members of the L’Arche community and friends will go over to Gonzaga Prep for dinner. Interested persons are welcome, but they must make reservations by Monday, Aug. 6. Call the L’Arche office at 483-0438.

L’Arche is French for “the ark.” The word is taken from the story of Noah in the Book of Genesis and signifies a place of refuge and diversity, which is the focus of L’Arche.

According to its mission statement, the primary aim of L’Arche is to create communities, “inspired by the Beatitudes and the Gospels, in which disabled residents and their able-bodied assistants share their lives as brothers and sisters.”

The first L’Arche community was formed in France in 1964 by Jean Vanier, who invited two developmentally disabled adults to live with him. His desire to serve the developmentally disabled attracted others and before long, other such communities had come into being.

In 1976 Holy Names Sister Mary Hurley founded the community that later became L’Arche Spokane. She established a home on Park Road near St. Paschal Parish for developmentally disabled men. That community was called Spokane Nazareth. While it was not officially connected to L’Arche, the community was interested in the L’Arche vision and its spirituality.

From there Spokane Nazareth moved to a farm near Mead, and in 1989 returned to the city. Currently there are two L’Arche homes in the neighborhood of Gonzaga University. L’Arche and GU have several ties. GU students will often become assistants in the communities.

Sister Mary directed the community for 10 years until her retirement. She died last November.

The Spokane community was granted membership in the International Federation of L’Arche in 1987.

Bill Wightman and Richard Deshon have been with the group since its beginning. Others who have been involved for 15 years or more include Pat Kyllo, Doug Byrd and Jane Crowley.

Cathy Anderson is the current executive director. She said she has been involved with L’Arche “off and on for 20 years.”

The developmentally disabled who live in a L’Arche community are called “core residents.” Adult “assistants” live with them and they share their lives “like family,” Anderson said. “Everyone carries their own weight.”

She stressed that, unlike assisted living facilities, L’Arche is “Christian-based living.” One of Vanier’s hopes was to “create family for those who have little or none, and empower them to be the best they can be,” and that is what each community strives to do, she said.

Money for the community comes from state funding, donations from benefactors, and fund-raisers. A successful event is the annual Christmas tree sale.

The anniversary Mass and dinner are part of what Anderson called the “Regional Gathering,” an annual L’Arche event that brings people from Washington, Oregon and California to Immaculate Heart Retreat Center for the weekend. “It’s when we welcome new assistants and new core members and bid farewell to those leaving. It’s also a time to enjoy getting together.”


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