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The Power of L’Arche to Transform Lives

A story from the guardian of a core member in L’Arche

In the spring of 1983 Lance tells the family, “I’m the oldest.  I need to leave the house first!”  He had spent a couple extra years in high school and was ready to move on.  Ready to clear the nest, especially before his younger (by 15 months) sister Jennie,  left for college in Montana.  He was determined.  Mom and dad had been researching avenues for Lance for quite some time.  Knowing and yearning for a place for him to call home in his adult life.  But where?  Where do you find care for someone who is ready to work, grow, and spread his love to the community but needs a little extra help for daily activities?  It is a question that weighed deeply on my folks heart.  So, they dug in, like they always do, and looked into options.

August 1983

The first option landed us sitting in an empty apartment deep on Division St.  When we arrived, one of the burners on the stove was on.  It was sterile, and although the middle of summer, felt cold.  I was 13 years old.  I sat on the bed we had just made up for Lance and watched mom busy herself with Lance’s belongings.  We were waiting to meet up with his mentor/helper.  He never showed up.  It was getting close to dark and my sister and I said,  “Mom, we can’t leave Lance here.”  I felt tears closing in on the situation.  Mom of course, was already thinking that.  We left and took everything and everyone back home with us.  Harvey might have given an earful to someone the next day, but at 13 you don’t always know what goes on beneath the fears and frustration of your parents.

Insert prayer.  Prayers were flying up at every turn of this story.  Where can Lance thrive and grow?  Where can he strive to reach his full potential to give back to community?  There must be some place….

Within a day or two of our first option, Mabel and family went to a BBQ that her friend Lois Walsh invited her to.  At that BBQ we met Lois’ aunt, Sister Mary Hurley and her sister, Delores.  This dynamic sister act quite literally answered my mom and dad’s prayers.  Those two ladies had started a community a few years before and were living in a large home with about 12 people with special needs.  The home was located in rural north Spokane.  The love and warmth present among the people that day was overwhelming.  The Core people were helping in all aspects of the dinner.  There was laughter, hugs, and beautiful conversation among both residents and their families.  Mom had to ask, “Sister Mary Hurley, do you have room for one more?”  Why yes, yes we do have room for Lance.

Relief.  Hope.  A bright future full of activities, family meals, and growing together within the fabric of community.   A place for Lance to grow, laugh, and share his unique talents.  What could be better?

Well, Sister Mary Hurley had a larger plan.  Her extended vision meant national, even international support.  It would provide a structure to formally organize this grass root community she was creating.  It was morphing and moving in a direction that required longevity.  She knew she needed to bring “The Farm,” as it was lovingly named, to an organization called L’Arche.   Upon doing so, she stepped down and retired, knowing her vision was in good hands.  She mentioned to mom and maybe some of the older families, “I felt like Moses, who got the people to the promise land, but did not go in.”

Transformation is at the heart of L’Arche.  It happens on a daily basis.  It lies in the details.  Details to move people from one place to the next, either emotionally or physically.  Details only the Assistants can provide:  hustling core members to appointments, helping them make meals, and sharing feelings of hope and hurt.  If not for the care the Assistants provide, L’Arche would be a cold apartment on division street, lacking in warmth and laughter, my parents riddled with worry.  Thank you to the people of this community – the assistants, core people, administration, board of directors and extended families.  We are all linked together.  We are all L’Arche.