By Erin Sawatzky
“I have an important announcement,” said Michael O’Connor, holding up his butterfly wings during a dance rehearsal- “We should do this more often!”
2023 has been a very special year for L’Arche Winnipeg. Not only has it been our first year fully returning to in-person gatherings since the start of the pandemic, but it also marks our 50th Anniversary as a community. Celebrations spanned the year with our Walk with L’Arche event and 50th Anniversary merchandise sale, but centred around 2 events in August: a thanksgiving service with Blessed Sacrament Parish, and Gala Dinner at CanadInns Event Centre.
Celebrating with Blessed Sacrament Parish brought us back to our beginning – our spiritual roots, and our relationship with the parish and Oblate Sisters who were so instrumental in the early years of L’Arche Winnipeg’s story. Through a beautiful evening of song and reflection, our community held up the cornerstone values that have always defined our spirituality: Joy, Belonging, Solidarity, Fidelity and Unconditional Love.
Mutual transformation has been another guiding core value through the years. Originally formed to help adults with disabilities move out of institutions and gain independence while belonging in community, the relationships formed at L’Arche through the years have transformed not only our core members but hundreds of assistants, staff and community friends as well. The theme of “butterflies” during our Gala Dinner on August 26th aimed to capture the beauty of this transformation process.
Over 200 people gathered together at the CanadInns Event Centre for a joyful evening of food, friends, stories and dancing. Our storytelling program, led by Community Leader Dominic Opaka and a variety of core members and assistants through the years, shared the story of how our organization has transformed over time. It was deeply meaningful to be joined by many of the key members of our L’Arche Winnipeg story- including Oblate Sister Cecile Fortier who originally offered L’Arche Winnipeg our first home, and past community leaders Shirley Nolan, Dennis Butcher and Jim Lapp. Many guests shared that the highlight of the evening for them was the dance performance, put on by 20 members of the L’Arche Winnipeg community to Keala Settle’s song “This is Me.” “We are bursting through the barricades, reaching for the sun,” sang dancers as they raised their butterfly wings to the sky. “It moved me to tears,” shared homes coordinator Leisa Tschetter.
As we step forward into the next 50 years, we are nourished and guided by the memories of our anniversary events – centred in our founding story, sustained by relationships, love and laughter, and inspired to continue our journey of mutual transformation.
Let’s “do this more often” by continuing to gather and celebrate as a community throughout the next 50 years to come!