Story & People

The history of l’arche

Our Story

The first L’Arche community was founded in 1964 in the small town of Trosly, France in response to the inhumane conditions of the large institutions where people with intellectual disabilities had been placed. That first L’Arche community of just four men at first provided a model for robust L’Arche communities all over the world for the next 50 years.


The First Community Opened

The first L’Arche home opened in Trosly, France in a previously abandoned small cottage. The first community provided a home in the truest sense of the word for its first four inhabitants and was a response to greater society’s call to bring people with intellectual disabilities out of the degrading conditions of institutions. No longer were people with disabilities seen as something shameful that needed to be quarantined, but as full human beings inherently deserving of respect.


L’Arche Landed in the United States

The first L’Arche community in the United States opened in Erie, Pennsylvania. The first home was in a dilapidated neighborhood and those early days were difficult. The founders had to share their personal incomes to sustain the community, while eating “apples and onions” for many of those first community meals.


Rehabilitation Act Signed into Law

The 1973 Rehabilitation Act included Section 504, which, for the first time, outlawed discrimination based on disability for the recipients of federal funds.


L’Arche International Formed

L’Arche became an international federation as the second generation of L’Arche leaders began to emerge. L’Arche grew into a truly global movement that continues its mission to this day.


Ten Years of L’Arche in the United States

After ten years in the United States, nine L’Arche communities had opened. The first communities were in Cleveland, OH; Clinton, IA; Erie, PA; Mobile, AL; Seattle, WA; Lynchburg, VA; Spokane, WA; Syracuse, NY; and Tacoma, WA.


Harbor House Opens Doors

Harbor House, founded by parents and friends of adults with intellectual disabilities, welcomes its first resident in Jacksonville, FL.


L'Arche USA is Founded

L’Arche USA was founded to help support existing communities in the United States and to help guide groups that are interested in founding new L’Arche communities.


Fair Housing Act Amended

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was amended to include provisions outlawing housing discrimination on the basis of disability.


Americans with Disabilities Act Became Law

President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. As he signed the law, President Bush exclaimed “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”


Harbor House joins the International Federation of L'Arche

L’Arche Harbor House in 1992 becoming the first and only L’Arche community in the state of Florida.


The Rainbow Workshop Opened

In 1997, the day program for L’Arche Harbor House opened, allowing core members a space to express their creativity and experience personal growth.


The Blanchart Community Center Opened

Two of L’Arche Jacksonville’s most cherished friends had no idea the community existed when they first witnessed L’Arche faith in action. A retired St. Johns River Pilot and former Maritime Service captain, Blanchart was touched by the relationships he and his wife Eleanor witnessed. The Blancharts wanted to learn more. One thing led to another, and they decided to put up a small building. The plans got bigger and bigger, and ended up with the community center as it is now. Today, the Blanchart Community Center sits at the center of the campus, an airy, light-filled building with staff offices, a kitchen and a large central space that serves as gathering point for nearly all L’Arche Jacksonville events, from board meetings to birthday parties to Community Nights on the first Thursday of every month.


L'Arche Turned 50

Half a century after its founding, a once small grassroots movement had become a global effort to celebrate diversity and the inherent value of all humans. People with intellectual disabilities found communities that valued their voices.


The New Rainbow Workshop

A new Rainbow Workshop opens! Philanthropists, the Powers Family, purchased the land located across the street from the community and funded the design and construction of a large facility adapted to the needs of our arts and therapy based day program. It is a dream come true for the community and the fruit of much time and labor. The building is dedicated to the matriarch of the Powers Family, JoAnne, from her husband Warren and their four children; JoAnn has been a friend and champion of L’Arche core members for decades. Many others contributed to the landscaping, furnishing and equipping the new Rainbow.


L'Arche Harbor House becomes L'Arche Jacksonville

For the sake of continuity and ease of recognition, L’Arche USA asked all L’Arche communities in the U.S to identify themselves by location. L’Arche Harbor House is now L’Arche Jacksonville.

The Impact of an Individual

Henri Nouwen

Many pilgrims on the spiritual journey have been drawn to the life, faith, and writings of Henri Nouwen. Henri Nouwen was a priest and professor who spent the last 11 years of his life in a L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France and one near Toronto, Canada.

Born in Holland in 1932, Nouwen was an ordained priest who also studied psychology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. He taught at the University of Notre Dame and the Divinity Schools of Yale and Harvard.

In 1986, one year after Nouwen accepted an opportunity to visit L’Arche Trosly-Breuil, he chose to make his permanent home at L’Arche Daybreak near Toronto, Canada. Ten years later, he died suddenly in Holland and was buried near the Daybreak community.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” – Henri Nouwen

Several of Nouwen’s books were inspired by the life he shared with people with intellectual and physical disabilities in L’Arche. A journal of his year at L’Arche Trosly is captured in The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey. Additionally, Nouwen wrote Adam, God’s Beloved, a beautiful and inspiring account of how his life was transformed through a friendship with a Core Member in the Daybreak community.

Visit the Henri Nouwen Society