Lorraine Keating remembers the “unbridled joy.”
That was just one of the life-changing things the St. F.X. graduate experienced during her time as a member of L’Arche Antigonish.
The Dartmouth resident was just one of myriad people – past and present – who gathered for a weekend to celebrate the community’s 40th anniversary earlier this summer.
“I loved everything about it,” Keating said.
Her time in the community started when she filled in for a friend one summer at L’Arche Antigonish.
That led to a three-year relationship, which spanned 1984 to 1987, not to mention time with communities in Toronto and India.
“The notion of unconditional acceptance of people – across the board,” Keating said, when asked about what she enjoyed about those times.
She added “it was the most formative experience of my life.”
While at L’Arche Antigonish, Keating said “we had so much fun,” recalling water fights with Margie Grace and the late Joe White.
Accompanied by her daughter, Nel, who has started spending time with the L’Arche Halifax community, Keating visited St. James United Church Hall for a Friday evening (Aug. 9) meet-and-greet, which launched a fun-filled weekend.
The festivities included a pancake breakfast, L’Arche Olympics, reunion dinner, prayer circle and barbecue.
“It was quite life changing,” Mark Kearns said of his time with L’Arche Antigonish in 2000.
When he arrived from his native United Kingdom, he noted, he “didn’t know what to expect.”
“It has been pretty special,” Keating, who now lives in Australia, said of his return to L’Arche Antigonish.
He described renewing friendships with such “amazing people” meant a lot of him.
“It is like nothing has changed – it is still a wonderful place for people to be,” he said.
Several people, including Kearns, travelled long distances to be part of the celebration.
“It is a place that you can call home,” Monique Robitaille said.
She and her two daughters came from Yellowknife for the festivities.
Her L’Arche experience, which spanned a six-year period – from 1994 to 2000, included time in Antigonish and two years in France.
“I was so young,” Robitaille said of the then 19-year-old that joined L’Arche Antigonish.
When asked about her time in those communities, particularly Antigonish, she said it is “hard to sum up,” noting the “personal depth” involved with her experience.
“It was about discovering my own worthiness,” Robitaille said, adding L’Arche provided her with a “sense of community and an avenue to walk with people.”
She described that time as “very profound.”
“People don’t judge you,” Robitaille said.
She noted, without her L’Arche experience “my [life] path would have really changed.”
Robitaille and Kearns noted one missing piece to the puzzle – the L’Arche Antigonish members who passed away since they lived in the community.
The 40th anniversary gathering also included much newer members, including Naomi Keller.
“It is really nice,” the native of Germany, an L’Arche Antigonish member for less than two months, said.
Keller works in the studio with L’Arche Antigonish’s Hearts and Hands program, while also living in one of the residences.
“It is such a great place,” she added.
The weekend also included the unveiling – and singing – of Where We Belong, a song composed by community members to mark the 40th anniversary.
Most participants also donned commemorative T-shirts that are emblazoned with the recently launched new logo for L’Arche Antigonish.
Over the remaining weeks of 2019, there will be community events as part of the anniversary, including a prayer gathering Dec. 2, the founding day for the community.
“It has been so great to reconnect with that time,” Keating said.
“It is all about coming together and I wanted to be part of that,” Robitaille added.