Thérèse Vanier Pioneer of L’Arche, palliative care and spiritual unity

Thérèse Vanier was born on 27 February 1923 in Camberley in Surrey, the eldest of five children. When she died in 2014, her funeral mass was held in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral – perhaps the first time such an honour had been accorded to a Roman Catholic since the Reformation. In this engaging biography – the first critical study of Thérèse’s life and work – Ann Shearer explores the career and personality of this sometimes formidable woman.

Thérèse Vanier was a distinguished doctor, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicans. As a haematologist, she was the first woman consultant at St Thomas’s hospital in London. She subsequently worked alongside Cecily Saunders, the founder of modern palliative care, at the world-renowned St Christopher’s Hospice; colleagues agree that it was Thérèse who did more than anyone else to bring the principles and practice of palliative medicine to a wider francophone world. At the beginning of the 1970s, she was the founder of the first L’Arche community in the UK, as well as helping to develop and support L’Arche’s wider international family. Thérèse’s other great passion was for ecumenism - as a committed Roman Catholic, she was deeply pained by the divisions between the Churches and between them and people of other faiths and none, and she worked tirelessly towards greater understanding and unity.

This biography is published with the full support of the Vanier family, with an introduction by Jean Vanier. Shearer draws on reminiscences and quotes from over 50 people who knew Thérèse and worked with her, as well as Thérèse’s own writings and lectures, to build a picture of a determined woman with a good sense of humour, a ‘no nonsense’ approach, a keen awareness of justice and a deep passion for those most marginalised by society. The book includes 8 pages of colour photographs.

‘One does not meet many people who exude that sense of spiritual strength combined with quiet compassion for all. Its basis must lie in a very strong connection to God, with God coming back down the wires and through Thérèse to others. That is still a crude picture but is the best way I can describe it.’ Consultant colleague

Ann Shearer is a London-based Jungian analyst, writer and teacher. She is the author of ten books and many articles on aspects of disability, Jungian psychology and restorative process. She worked for many years as a journalist for The Guardian and other publications. Her interest in how societies perceive and support people with intellectual disabilities took her around the world as a consultant and lecturer. This interest introduced her to L’Arche and during the 1970s she lived for a spell in one of the communities as well as working for its international organisation. Thérèse Vanier was a friend of Ann’s for over 30 years. Ann translated Jean Vanier’s Signs of the Times (DLT 2013).

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