Many Gifts, One Spirit of L’Arche

Mic Altena

Published 29 March 2016

Mary Susan Chen, a long time volunteer with L'Arche Chicago, shares her #SpiritOfLArche story.

The Spirit of L’Arche is to invite people to share life in community and we all take different paths to get there. Mary Susan’s path began before L’Arche Chicago opened its doors, when she read Henri Nouwen’s book The Road to Daybreak.  Reading Nouwen’s account of his spiritual growth in supported community living sparked her concern for a disabled family member’s future living arrangements. She was further inspired after hearing a L’Arche speaker in Chicago, and then placed a phone call and found out there was a L’Arche Chicago – still in concept at that time. The Spirit of L’Arche was present when Mary Susan and L’Arche Chicago crossed paths all those years ago and today, the Spirit of L’Arche resounds even stronger with Mary Susan.

More than a just a house, relationships make community!

L’Arche invites people to be part of community in all kinds of different ways. Some people make their home at a L’Arche Chicago house as Core Members who draw all of us us close to one another. Some live at L’Arche as Assistants, sharing the rhythm of daily life while assisting core members to have a true home and a vibrant life. Mary Susan remembers her very first days supporting L’Arche Chicago by cleaning the first house to get it ready to be a home for Elbert, Christianne, Jean, and Sr. Maria Zeimen. In L’Arche, Mary Susan saw “a positive ideal and the reality of day-to-day life.” she said, “As a mom raising kids while working as a Physical Therapist, I brought a family perspective to those who started living together as strangers and becoming community. The Family of L’Arche includes people who live at L’Arche and those who haven’t ever lived at one of our houses.”

Over the years, sharing in the ideals and realities with “the people in L’Arche helps me open up my gifts. I have served on the L’Arche Chicago Community Council. ” She said, “When we discussed everyday problems, I felt like I was able to tell the assistants, ‘Yes that happens in family life and we need to be patient with each other, forgive each other. Living together isn’t easy.’ At the same time, counseling people living in L’Arche helped me to be a more patient mother and wife. I have attended L’Arche Regional retreats, where I led a body awareness exercise so we can be in our lives awake and fully experiencing life. I have traveled to Missouri to hear a L’Arche speaker and had the honor of hosting a dinner for Jean at my home here in Chicago.”

Join the #SpiritOfLarche

Helping L’Arche to sustain itself and grow to open its third house in 2016, Mary Susan shows that there are many gifts but one #SpiritOfL’Arche. “I was able to contribute to the meals that are so important to community by purchasing a share at a local Community Supported Agriculture farm for L’Arche Chicago,” But Mary Susan makes it clear that being a supporter of L’Arche Chicago does not begin or end with writing a check or making a financial contribution. “The importance is in knowing the people. At L’Arche, you are not an outside supporter of the community. You are inside people’s lives making community.”

Mary Susan has been part of the L’Arche Chicago community since the beginning and looking back at reading the book that started her on the road to L’Arche, she says that, “The love and giving flow both ways in L’Arche. Just when you think you’re the one giving, the gifts flow back to you.”

You can join together with people like Mary Susan an be a part of the movement to provide an inclusive community where the gifts of both those with and without developmental disabilities are made known and respected. Join us in the #SpiritOfL’Arche in four easy ways:

  1. Join the L’Arche Chicago Impact Society, a dedicated community of monthly donors that ensure the health of the community for core members and assistants.

  2. Sponsor or Register for the Golf Classic where you can golf, network, and make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

  3. Attend Spirit of L’Arche Awards Dinner where we celebrate and honor the friends of the community that have demonstrated what it means to live out the Spirit of L’Arche.

  4. Thank your friends for their gifts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with #SpiritOfLarche and

The importance is in knowing the people. At L’Arche, you are not an outside supporter of the community. You are inside people’s lives making community.

Mary Susan Chen