Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 1

This is part 1 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

DaybreakNouwenOn March 17-20 I traveled to Toronto, Canada to have a retreat and do some research. I went there to do research on a man named Henri Nouwen and a community for disabled adults named L’Arche Daybreak. I was surprised by how much I learned about life, ministry, and myself.

I have been reading a number of books recently by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was Dutch Catholic priest and author of a number of books. He lived from 1932-1996. Over those years, Henri taught at The University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School, and Harvard Divinity School. He was trained as a psychologist and wrote a lot about ministry and about Christian spirituality. He was a big author, speaker, and teacher, but he decided to leave the academy and go live with disabled adults for what would be the last 10 years of his life.

L’Arche is French for “The Ark.” This is the name that founder Jean Vanier gave to this organization when he brought 2 people with disabilities into his home in 1864. Fifty years later there are now 147 communities in 35 countries.

Daybreak in Toronto is the oldest community in North America. It was started in 1969 on what was then farmland. Now it is in the middle of a bustling suburb. It includes 8 homes of 4-5 disabled adults each. These are called core members because they are the core of the community. There were also a large number of assistants and staff from all around the world. Daybreak has several day programs including a wood shop called The Woodery and a craft studio.

I went there and stayed in a retreat center that Henri lived in. In fact, I found out later that I was actually staying in Henri’s room. I was told that the furniture had all been replaced so it was not worth it to steal anything. Each night I would have dinner in a different house at Daybreak. During the day I would be in the community except for Thursday when I would go to the University of Toronto to do research at the Henri Nouwen Archives.


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