By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — While preparing for a St. Patrick’s Day prayer service at L’Arche in Clinton, Sarah Kimble’s face lit up as individuals with and without intellectual disabilities entered the room. She stretched her arms wide to accept their hugs. From the time they arrived to the time the service was over, a warm smile rarely left Kimble’s face.
For Kimble, L’Arche’s director of hospitality and formation, it was community in its purest form.
Community was a relatively foreign concept to Kimble, 34, until she became involved with L’Arche four years ago. She grew up in a nonreligious family and, in her young adult years, she was constantly on the move.
“I’d never experienced anything like this community,” Kimble recalled. “It was new and different, shocking even. But I sensed something special and I was drawn to it.”
The community, which brings core members with intellectual disabilities and associates together to share life, also introduced Kimble to a new philosophy and a sense of spirituality based on Catholic founder Jean Vanier’s mission to promote mutual community relationships and a trust in God. Core members with intellectual disabilities are not seen as inferior. Vanier was adamant that all people have important gifts and lessons to share.
While founded in the values of the Catholic Church — particularly those of human dignity and social justice — L’Arche welcomes people of all faith backgrounds. In seeing core members and associates express their personal relationships with God, the agnostic Kimble began to yearn for a faith of her own, one that could potentially help her connect even more with core members. “The spirituality at L’Arche is what set me on this path, especially the powerful prayers and spiritual messages. I was looking for my place.”
“She had a hunger,” said Deacon Jeff Schuetzle, a spiritual director for L’Arche and member of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish-Clinton. “She was willing to explore a relationship with God but didn’t know where it would take her or what it would look like.”
For about three years, she explored different churches and religious institutions in Clinton. Over time, she became more and more drawn to Catholicism. “I loved Mass. I loved the participatory nature and structure of it. I loved how sacred and communal it felt.”
One “a-ha” moment came when she attended Mass at Prince of Peace alongside a Catholic L’Arche core member. “He was so anxious at first, but then he relaxed and sang. When it was time for Communion, I asked if he wanted to participate and he nodded enthusiastically. To see a man with minimal intellect so drawn to Mass and Communion meant a lot to me.”
Last year, not long after attending a powerful Easter Mass with associate Katey Simon, Kimble decided to enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at Prince of Peace. Simon agreed to be her sponsor.
Kimble is set to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist during the Easter Vigil Mass at the Clinton parish March 26. She’s a little nervous, but comforted knowing that she’ll be cheered on not just by the L’Arche community but the community at Prince of Peace as well. “They’ve offered so much love, support and encouragement along the way.”
Also helping her celebrate will be her children Olivia, 11, and Finn, 8, who regularly attend Mass with their mother. “They’re proud of me,” Kimble said.
She admits her journey to the church may be untraditional, “but it feels like such a conscious choice. I’m grateful for this journey.”
About L’Arche Clinton
Known as The Arch, the L’Arche Community in Clinton, was founded in 1974 by Sister Marjorie Wisor, a Clinton Franciscan. It is a faith-based nonprofit that supports 16 adults who have intellectual disabilities in family-like homes and apartments.
It follows the philosophy of international L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, a Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award recipient who insists on seeing persons with disabilities as equals with lessons and gifts to share.