‘God bless this house’

June 16-22, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 23
‘God bless this house’
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
L’Arche community celebrates opening of newest home

Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.

With that verse, L’Arche Syracuse initiated the blessing of its dwelling on Galster Avenue in Syracuse and Father Gary Johnson, OFM Conv., dashed holy water on the new home’s living room.

In a fashion typical of L’Arche, the residents, or “core members” in the terminology of the organization, were as involved as the priests, ministers and lay people who participated in the blessing.

L’Arche is an international community that welcomes developmentally challenged people whose families cannot or will not take care of them and gives these people a home superior to that of an institution.

The Syracuse edition of the community is the only one of its kind in New York State and includes 16 core members in four homes. The new house will hold four core members. Sixteen more communities are networked throughout the region, which includes parts of the Upper Midwest as well as the Mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast. The community doesn’t stop there. It webs together 120 communities throughout the world in over 30 different countries.

According to the organization’s charter, L’Arche was born in 1964 “when Jean Vanier and Father Thomas Philippe, in response to a call from God, invited Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, two men with intellectual disability, to come and share their lives in the spirit of the Gospel and the Beatitudes that Jesus preached.”

The goal of the organization is to offer developmentally challenged people dignity and a place where their gifts can flower.

“In our society, those gifts are not recognized,” said Syracuse L’Arche Director Frank Woolever, offering “the gift of joy” as an example.

Woolever assumed the position of interim L’Arche director in 2000, assuming that it would be a matter of months before a permanent director would be installed. Over four years later, he is still helping to guide the organization. Woolever and his wife Meme have been involved in L’Arche since the Syracuse community was founded 30 years ago.

“I’ve enjoyed the work. It’s a wonderful community. It’s just a great community and you can see from the people that are here, you can sense it. It’s faith community so we have a very strong spiritual nature to it. But it’s also a community of joy and it’s a real family,” Woolever said.

Ted Fox is one of L’Arche’s success stories. A core member of L’Arche for 27 years, Fox lives at the James Street residence. Soon, Fox and his housemates will move from L’Arche’s oldest dwelling into its newest

Fox works four hours a day, five days a week at a local grocery store and participates in Mass at St. Lucy’s.

Most recently, Fox traveled to an international meeting of L’Arche communities in Assisi, Italy. Accompanied by L’Arche assistant Deb Wolke, Fox represented not only the Syracuse community, but also all 16 communities in the region.

While in Europe, Fox spent time not only in Italy, but also France. While he was there he went on long walks and made new friends. It was his third such trip to Europe and Wolke’s first.

Wolke explained that the theme of the biannual meeting was to reassert L’Arche’s direction in light of Vanier’s retirement two years ago.

“A big focus for this meeting was how to do what they call ‘refounding.’ The founder is no longer there at the forefront. How can we keep the same message that he had?” she said. “Without his paradigm and face in front of us, how can we all be united and keep the same strong ideals going….The majority of organizations flounder at this point and we want to make sure we’re strong enough.”

Each L’Arche representative had a voice and a vote in the new mission statement, but Wolke noted that perhaps more important than the conference itself were the stories the core members returned with.

Fox laughed out loud as Wolke recalled “blowing up his razor.” Forgetting that European voltage is considerably stronger than North American, Wolke had rendered Fox’s razor useless when she plugged it into the wall without an adapter.

Thursday, Fox was back at what will become his new home, participating in its blessing.

While all those gathered at the house sang “Grace before us, grace behind us, grace under our feet/Grace within us, grace over us, let all around us be grace,” Fox and Janet Brown stepped forward to light a candle. The blessing concluded with the Woolevers and Amy Grealish blessing the outside of the house and the neighborhood, while L’Arche community members Mary Beth DeMarco and Mike Baker lit a candle.

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