In 1964 Jean Vanier visited the deplorable institutions where people with intellectual disabilities were warehoused and his heart was stirred to action.
The first L’Arche home was established when Jean purchased a small house in Trosly-Breuil, France, and invited Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux to move out of an institution to live with him.
He hoped he could help them – and he did. But Raphaël and Philippe helped him even more by teaching him what it truly means to love and be loved.
A worldwide movement was sparked and L’Arche became an international federation of 140 member communities, established as independent entities in 40 countries on six continents. The communities include more than 5,000 people with and without an intellectual disability, who share their lives in homes, workshops and day programs. Within L’Arche USA, there are 18 independent communities, including L’Arche Spokane.
In 1974, Mary Hurley spent a year in the then L’Arche Community in Missoula, Montana. Two years later, after consultation with L’Arche International founder Jean Vanier, She then welcomed Richard Deshon and Walter Wells, two men with Intellectual Disabilities to live in community with her at the vacant convent at St. Paschal’s Church. They called themselves Spokane Nazareth.
By 1982, the community had grown to consist of 12 men. They purchased a farm in Mead, WA, where the men could have regular, productive work. They raised pigs, goats, geese, rabbits, chickens and dogs, and had an apple orchard and garden. They also began a wood shop.
Sr. Mary continued to to pursue her dream of becoming part of the International Federation of L’Arche. After much work and discussion that dream was realized in 1986 when they were welcomed as a probationary member. Also at this time, Sr. Mary stepped down as director, and the name was changed to L’Arche Spokane.
In 1989 the decision was made to move near Gonzaga University to be closer to the Jesuit community, to be more active participants in the life of Spokane and have better access to public services. They opened Harvest House and Nazareth House in the Logan Neighborhood, and for the first time, women were welcomed into the community.
The woodworking shop that began at the farm grew to welcome other people with Intellectual Disabilities and the shop also moved to the Logan neighborhood. Over the years some of the core members who worked there came to live in the community.
In the years since the workshop has become it's own independent business and separated from L’Arche in 1994 and grew into The Artisans which continues to employ people with disabilities.
In 2002, the community expanded with the purchase of Trinity House, and they again welcomed new core members, with established core members showing new folks the ways of L’Arche.
2010 brought many changes as Nazareth House closed and the core members moved into two houses.
Today (2014) L’Arche Spokane maintains 2 houses in the Logan neighborhood providing homes for 11 core members and the assistants who come to live with them. It is an active and welcoming community with many friends and supporters.