Christian Communal Reveries in Trosly-Breuil: Inclusivity, Urban Citizenship, and Body Politics at L’Arche

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:50 PM
Price Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Michael Mulvey, St. Thomas University
In 1964, the Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier convinced the families of two intellectually disabled men to leave a psychiatric institution for a village about a one-hour drive north of Paris. Vanier had no professional training to care for intellectually disabled people, but he had concluded that “the mentally handicapped are the people the most oppressed in the world.” Vanier’s community witnessed success and L’Arche became a transnational movement. This paper is a chapter in a book project titled Moralizing Paris: French Catholicism and Transnational Urban Development after the Second World War, which dialogues with Giuliana Chamedes’ research on the Catholic origins of postwar development theory and recent histories of postwar urbanism and social citizenship. Vanier’s L’Arche was one of a series of Catholic efforts to influence urbanism, collective living, and citizens’ claim to urban inclusivity.

Catholics embraced postwar reconstruction—at home and in the empire—as an opportunity to build “the city that is to come.” A concept aligned with Interwar French personalism united Catholics who confronted the city as more than a metaphor: épanouissement or individual blossoming. Form followed function and good homes and communities were the foundation for the fullest expression of personal abilities and “natural” gendered vocations. This radical vision superseded charity and operated on the margins of the traditional parliamentary left and Roman ecclesiastical authority. Activists’ zeal was to realize communities where the bourgeois ideal of “having” yielded to Catholic “being” in communion with others. L’Arche movement formed urban micro-socities in care homes and rural eco-villages that shared this broader Catholic commitment to enabling intellectually disabled people to flourish. The conservative Catholic Vanier argued that a Christian urban citizenship prioritized care and interdependence before possession and self-autonomy. This paper contextualizes L’Arche movement as it places L’Arche communities and disability history into dialogue with urban history.