By Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Martin Amos arrived at a house in Clinton for dinner and received hugs and handshakes from the five housemates meeting him for the first time. All five are core members of The Arch/L’Arche, a community of people with and without intellectual disabilities who share life together in houses and apartments.
While giving Bishop Amos a big hug, core member Janice Warner noticed a chain around his neck that mysteriously disappeared into the chest pocket of his black suit coat. “It’s my pectoral cross,” the bishop explained, showing her the cross attached to the chain and tucked inside the pocket, one of the symbols of his role as bishop. “It’s very special because the cross came from my grandmother.” Janice, who is not Catholic, wondered if she could have a pectoral cross too!
Bishop Amos had been invited to dinner at Arch II in anticipation of his trip next month to France to present the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to L’Arche founder Jean Vanier.
While the bishop knew about L’Arche, which has 140 communities worldwide, this was his first visit to one of them. Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and coordinator of the Pacem in Terris Coalition, accompanied Bishop Amos.
I joined them because The Arch has a special place in my heart and I’m covering the award presentation in France as a representative of the coalition.
Arch II House Coordinator Jon Kuiper grilled pork chops for the occasion and Jo Anne Horstmann, an assistant at Arch II, shared sweet corn from her family farm in Lost Nation. Jo Anne previously served as longtime community leader for The Arch and then as regional coordinator for L’Arche USA’s central region.
For Jo Anne and for Sister Maria Zeimen, OSF, who now serves as The Arch’s interim community leader, the Clinton community has had a years-long hold on their hearts.
Clinton’s Arch community opened its doors 39 years ago after Sister Marjorie Wisor, OSF, met Vanier and spent time at the first L’Arche community he founded in Trosly-Breuil, France.
“This visit left a great impression on me as I felt layers of me being stripped away as the handicapped people met me person-to-person. There were no barriers. Our ‘persons’ met at the deepest level,” Sr. Marjorie recalled in a reflection on The Arch’s website. With Sr. Maria as assistant, Sr. Marjorie opened the door to the first core member, Gerry Potter, in 1974.
Today, The Arch has three homes and six apartments with 18 core members and 18 full-time and part-time assistants who live in or outside The Arch. Other members include the community leader, community coordinator, office manager, administrative assistant and an eight-member board of directors.
After the delicious dinner at Arch II, topped off with ice cream and Oreo cookies for dessert, we all headed to Sacred Heart Chapel about seven blocks away, for the monthly prayer service of The Arch community. I wanted to walk to the chapel and so did core member Brenda Connell. We had a delightful visit as we walked to and from the prayer service. We discovered, among other things, that we were born in the same year and both of us are first-born children.
Leading the prayer service were Deacon Jeff Schuetzle of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton and Annette Lyons, who heads the parish’s outreach ministry. Blessings are plentiful during the prayer service. Anyone who’s celebrating an anniversary that month gets blessed, Deacon Jeff explained.
After the group blessed assistant Sue Tarr, they blessed Deacon Jeff and Annette, who celebrated 10 years of ministry to The Arch. Then they blessed Bishop Amos and me for the journey to their founder’s home.
Bishop Amos may have arrived at The Arch as a stranger, but he left as a beloved friend.