Stories : JP Mahoney

Relationships that bind

All communities are about relationships. L’Arche Jacksonville truly has a gift in the core members because they bring you so much joy in their relationships with you. It makes it very easy to live in community.

On first acquaintance, it might be easy to pigeonhole the tall, soft-spoken assistant who heads Greatfull House as serious, intelligent and intense. That’s before you learn about JP’s quick wit, easy sense of humor and openness to others. JP came to L’Arche Jacksonville (then known as Harbor House) on a quest of sorts. “I was drawn to the idea of living in community, but I was still exploring,” he says. “In college (at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington), I spent a springtime service trip at a Catholic worker community. I fell in love with it and decided to go back for the summer. That was where I first heard about L’Arche—when a L’Arche community in Tacoma came to visit. It didn’t really cross my mind then that I would one day be part of it.”

But the Communications major knew he was interested in finding out more about community living. After graduation, he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working in Alaska to help people with HIV. Eventually, he decided to move closer to his family in Georgia. “By this time, I knew I wanted to pursue nursing possibilities,” he says. “I was at a nursing home for a while, but was missing community life tremendously. That’s when I found L’Arche Harbor House (then known as Harbor House) on the Internet.”

Through the core members at L’Arche, he has discovered the kind of experience he sought. “The core members make it very easy to live in community,” he explains. “Whereas in other communities it was more of a struggle, here you have a very specific calling that everyone shares, that everyone is in together.”

He explains further by referencing Pam, a core member with many needs and very limited communications skills who has become a special friend. “Pam draws you to her. When I first got here, I knew very little about people with disabilities. You have a month of transition time, with the first week devoted to just getting to know people. The greatest instruction was just to sit with the core members and not worry about anything else. Just sitting with Pam especially was a nice, beautiful time. She’s very good at building bonds just by being. That’s the key to life, just being with people, not necessarily what you say. Pam teaches you that. For me, that’s the core of compassion. Not just being there physically, but also mentally.”

JP isn’t certain of the details, but says he is now “more solid” in his commitment to being in community for life. “Even if I’m living in my own place, I want to somehow be part of a community. I grew up as an only child. So I like the social aspects, being able to hear people’s stories, to learn about different cultures and backgrounds. I feel like this is a microcosm of what the world ought to be: living together with differences, different beliefs, different callings, and coming together for a cause. Most of all, it’s changed my views of people with disabilities. I was ignorant in a lot of ways about that. Wherever I go next, I’ll be looking for what I find here in the core members.”