Sister Vicky Arndorfer has ministered to people with developmental disabilities as a full-time live-in assistant for The Arch in Clinton, Iowa, since April 2008. The Arch is a L'Arche Community, a non-profit organization providing Christian-based homes for people with intellectual disabilities.
In the photo Vicky and a core member of The Arch do laundry.
Vicky lives in an Arch home with another live-in assistant and four core members who range in age from 22 to 50 years. Two core members have lived in the Arch community for 28 years while the most recent core member moved in just over a year ago.
"L'Arche focuses on building community and enriching spirituality in addition to giving quality service," said Vicky. "That is why I am attracted to it. So far this is a very life-giving experience."
Each core member is responsible for duties around the house such as preparing dinner, taking out the garbage, walking the house dog or tending the garden. Live-in assistants, like Vicky provide support to core members in and outside the home.
Some of The Arch core members spend a portion of their day working at Skyline, a sheltered workshop which provides contract work with area employers. Others participate in Skyline Day Rehabilitation Services, a day program filled with activities such as bowling, cooking and arts and crafts. In the late afternoon, core members return to their homes to continue to live life in community, to eat together and to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
L'Arche was founded by French-Canadian Jean Vanier in Trosley-Breuil, France. Vanier opened his home to two men with intellectual disabilities in 1964. Vanier called his communities L'Arche, French for "the ark" a word symbolizing diversity, refuge and hope in Christian and Jewish traditions. Today, men and women with and without developmental disabilities share their lives in 133 L'Arche communities in 35 counties. Sister Marjorie Wisor, OSF, a Clinton Franciscan, introduced The Arch community to Clinton in 1974.
Vicky sees many similarities with her work at The Arch and life as a Sister of Mercy. Catherine McAuley and Jean Vanier were both visionary people who saw a need in their community and whose works spread worldwide. Catherine opened the House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin to care for the poor and sick and to house and educate children and young women. Vanier saw a need to offer a place for people with developmental disabilities to live in community.
Finally, the Sisters of Mercy and L'Arche focus on living life in community. In his book, Community and Growth, Vanier wrote: "Community is a place where people can live truly as human beings, where they can be healed and strengthened in their deepest emotions, and where they can walk towards unity and inner freedom. As fears and prejudices diminish, and trust in God and others grows, the community can radiate and witness to a style and quality of life which will bring a solution to the troubles of our world."