Alumni Spotlight: Meet Laura!

With our 24th anniversary just days away we wanted to check in with L’Arche Chicago’s very first assistant, Laura Wassilak!

Published 31 May 2024

Ahoy Laura Wassilak (Bowers)! 

When were you a part of L’Arche Chicago?

I lived in L’Arche from May 2000 through the following summer of 2001, the first year of L’Arche Chicago opening.  I lived with Sr. Maria Zeimen, the director, and David Hovde, another assistant.  Shortly after I moved into the house with Elbert Lott, our first core member.  A few months later, we welcomed Jeanie Wilson, our second core member.  And later, we would welcome a man named Michael.  Michael had cerebral palsy but also struggled with some significant mental health issues.  We quickly realized that Michael was not a good fit in the community and we were not able to meet his needs.  Shortly afterward, he moved out.  Toward the end of my tenure, we welcomed Christianne.  My decision to leave L’Arche after one year was a difficult one.  I was desperate to stay another year, but my boyfriend, Douglas, (now husband) was wanting me to leave.  In the end, I decided to leave to have more time for my relationship and to return to my physical therapy career.

What was a favorite memory you have from your time in L’Arche?

My favorite memories???  I have so many it’s difficult to pick one.  I’ll give you a few that I carry close to my heart.  One of my favorites is Douglas and I teaching Jeanie how to ride a two-wheeled bike in the St. Catherine of Sienna parking lot.  Also, Jeanie selecting her Godmother when walking out of Ascension and then later attending Jeanie’s baptism with her Godmother at her side.  Attending a service at the Baptist church so I could listen to Elbert play the piano.  Taking Jeanie to Arts of LIfe to visit and spending the day painting.  Getting all my painting supplies out and having everyone in the house, Sr. Maria, David, Elbert, Jeanie, and I paint until our heart’s content.  I still have many of these paintings in my basement.

What are you up to now?

I currently live in Valparaiso, IN about an hour outside of Chicago with my family.  I’ve been married to my husband Douglas for 21 years.  L’Arche has been an integral part of the beginning of our relationship.  We met on a service Spring Break Trip to L’Arche Clinton.  Later, he would spend so much time at L’Arche Chicago that I really should include him as part of the community.   We have 3 children, Alex (17), Ben (15), and Monica (11).  Alex, our oldest, will go off to college next year and it is hard to believe how fast time flies.  He has chosen to attend Marquette University to study Civil Engineering.  We couldn’t be more proud.  I have continued to work as a physical therapist for the past 20+ years in various roles.  I currently work in the schools with children with special needs.  These beautiful children continue to bless me with their presence.

What’s something that you learned from L’Arche and have carried with you?

Lesson and values of L’Arche?  Another question that is difficult to answer with just one.  So many come to mind…  One value that sticks with me is the gift of our presence to others- something often lost in our culture with our attention towards so many screens.  Also, the thought that we are all broken, but some of us can hide it better than others.  That our brokenness allows our inner light to shine through.  We all bring our individual gifts and weaknesses to the table.  And that we desperately need each other, we need community, to be whole.