Rose Mattax wanted a Catholic Church nearby but discovered a different kind of spiritual home when L’Arche purchased the house across the street. L’Arche is a nonprofit organization that provides homes for adults with intellectual disabilities (known as “Core members”). Their local office is at 7313 Madison St. and they own two houses on Ferdinand.
Rose is a retired energy-medicine psychotherapist and a longtime resident of Forest Park. She discovered L’Arche when she was in her 20s, living on the East Coast. She read the book The Road to Daybreak – A Spiritual Journey by Henry Nouwen. The renowned theologian spent the final 10 years of his life living in the L’Arche Daybreak home near Toronto.
The book recounts Nouwen’s nine-month stay at the L’Arche home in Trosly, France. This is where his friend, Jean Vanier, started the movement in 1964. Vanier’s vision was to create small homes for Core members and their “assistants.”
Forest Park is perfect for L’Arche. It’s a walkable community, close to public transportation. It also has plenty of small houses. These houses must have plenty of outdoor space and the one on Ferdinand has an outdoor deck and a sizable backyard patio.
Rose has admired the L’Arche movement for years. But the organization’s director of development, Vicki Watts, is relatively new. She started her position only a few months ago and is involved with fundraising and marketing. L’Arche receives some governmental funding but they must raise 28% of their $2.4 million annual budget.
This money is used to purchase and renovate properties. It is also needed to furnish homes, pay staff and provide necessities. L’Arche also maintains a community vehicle for transportation needs. When they requested handicap parking for this vehicle, the village immediately put up signs and painted the curb blue.
L’Arche has encountered considerably more red tape while constructing a new home in Oak Park. The two-story house has a modern design and open floor plan. It has a spacious courtyard and deck. It will also have ground floor access for Core members who use wheelchairs and is scheduled to be completed in fall 2024.
Meanwhile, the L’Arche movement continues to grow. They maintain homes in 37 countries and attract assistants from all over the world. It’s an attractive position for many young people. The pay isn’t great but the work is heart-centered and beneficial to Core members and assistants alike. Plus, L’Arche provides them with housing.
Rose and her husband John have welcomed several assistants to Forest Park. They share meals and act as tour guides of the Chicago area. She has also been a good friend and neighbor to a Core member named Noah. For over a year, Rose has crossed Ferdinand every Wednesday afternoon to play Uno with Noah.
I was invited to a recent game and found the house filled with four Core members and their assistants. There were also interns and part-time staff members. Rose and I were among the volunteers playing Uno at the dining room table. Fortunately, we weren’t playing for money. I may know my colors, but I wasn’t accustomed to cards that skip your turn and make you pick up more cards.
It reminded me of living with a big family and for Core members it’s a family for life.
If you’re interested in donating your time or money to L’Arche, you can call Vicki at 708-660-1600, ext. 102. You can also email her at email@example.com. The organization’s website is www.larchechicago.org.
You can receive the spiritual gifts that Rose Mattax and Henry Nouwen found.
Making friends at L’Arche homes can be incredibly rewarding.
John Rice lives in Forest Park and grew up in Oak Park. He writes a weekly column in the Forest Park Review, a Growing Community Media publication.