Our New Pastoral Minister, Diana Giard: “L’Arche is the Better”

diana-on-camino-croppedYou get the sense, talking with Diana Giard, that she is a woman on a long journey, through bright places and dark, who has found herself at rest and happy in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Head of Gandhi House for the past year, Diana was named to succeed Tom Murphy as pastoral minister, effective October 1. Tom is returning to Boston College for his Ph.D. while maintaining a close connection with community.

Diana has worked as a community organizer in a Chicago non-profit co-founded by Michelle Obama. She has served for three years as a graduate campus minister at Loyola University. She has dropped out of a three-year counseling program in Manchester, New Hampshire. She has made whoopie pies and lived with her in-laws when she couldn’t afford to live elsewhere, and together with her husband she has walked the Camino de Santiago. (The photo shows her at the city limits of Santiago de Compostela, the thousand-year-old pilgrimage site in northwestern Spain.)

In all of this, the “transformative” moment came five years ago, when she was a full-time live-in assistant at L’Arche Cleveland. For fourteen months she lived on a monthly Americorps stipend of $1000, while working for tips at a local coffee shop and canvassing door-to-door for the US Census. The Cleveland community knew she was strapped for cash, and they allowed her to work extra jobs.

“It was strange being a live-in assistant in an unknown community far from home, and I was very lonely,” she recalls. “But my relationship with God developed in that time. Taking long walks in the woods near the house, I developed a strong sense of faith, a deep sense of joy. In a way I had never said it before, I said to myself, ‘I’m happy.’”

All this at a time of personal and financial struggle. “My car was repossessed,” she says. Then she laughs to reassure us: “It’s OK. That’s common knowledge.”

What was it about L’Arche Cleveland that gave her such happiness?

“There were moments,” she says, “when I saw God radiating through the core members, through the generosity of fellow assistants, through through my own experience and my self-awareness. All of this difficulty—and then there was God.”

Blanche DuBois says it in A Streetcar Named Desire: “Sometimes there’s God so quickly.”

“I became my most authentic self during that time, my best self. I saw that I was becoming a woman of integrity and I wouldn’t have done it without the grace of God or L’Arche creating that space in my life. And then I met Aaron.” Diana and Aaron Giard were married in 2013, and today they are both assistants at L’Arche Boston North. Meanwhile, their baby Ethan is, hands-down, the most popular person in community.

None of this came instantly or without struggle. Asked what advice she would give to new L’Arche assistants, Diana said, “Take the time to pause and notice God at work in the moment, especially through the core members. And take the time, especially if you are a live-in, to reflect on your experience, because you will be transformed if you take that time.”

Diana came to L’Arche Boston North in September 2014 as a relief assistant, while Aaron taught at a nearby private school. Just as Aaron once had thought his future might lie in the priesthood, Diana thought her real future was in counseling. So while working thirty hours a week at L’Arche she studied and worked for a state license in mental health counseling in Manchester, New Hampshire.

That is, like many who come to L’Arche straight out of college thinking to stay a year or two while waiting for “something better,” Diana thought she was preparing for a better future in counseling. But she finally decided to step away from that field.

She says, “I was prideful about being a counselor, a field that has more so-called credibility than L’Arche does.” Working with people with intellectual disabilities, she notes, is “a marginalized profession. People think, I could never do that work, not with people who often are seen as less than human.”

Her pride passed, and Diana’s perspective changed. “I’ve discovered,” she says, “that L’Arche is the better in my life. Today, I recognize that L’Arche is my vocation.”

L’Arche, she says, “doesn’t take a special person. It only takes a person who cares about human dignity.”

Diana Giard has made a long journey through L’Arche to L’Arche. We are happy she is here.