Welcome Our New Core Member, Gentleman John


“Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive,” Jean Vanier writes in Community and Growth. “If a community is closing its doors, that is a sign that hearts are closing as well.”

As Americans we get this. Yesterday our grandparents arrived as strangers. Today we argue over immigration.

At L’Arche we get it too. Pat’s House welcomed John, a new core member, on Friday, September 30, and our L’Arche Boston North community has embraced him. Many have helped form that embrace, maybe especially Fran, Annika, and Elvis.

Elvis gets credit because John’s first official act after moving into Pat’s House on September 30 was to go see Elvis. Justin Shandor & Memphis Bound were offering “The Ultimate Elvis Concert” in Andover, and John had scored a pair of tickets. Annika, an assistant in Pat’s House, readily agreed to accompany him to the event.

Said Annika, “He loved it, sang along to a lot of songs. I could tell he was really happy to be there, his eyes fixed on the stage the entire time.” The pair waited with many others to meet the star afterward and Annika said, “I could see the look in John’s eyes: star-struck.”

But maybe more of an introduction is in order. Our new core member might better be called John D, to distinguish him from John A, a core member in Peace House. John D, as in Rockefeller. Or maybe Gentleman John is a nickname that will stick, because he is unfailingly that. His warm, polite manner has helped to smooth his own transition to Pat’s House.

After all, there are two sides to any welcome, as Jean Vanier also notes: “The people welcomed must try to accept the community as it is, with the space that is offered, be willing to abide by the spirit, traditions and rules of the community, and desire also to grow and to evolve.”

Annika said about Gentleman John: “He has a way with ladies, I can tell you that. On his way out of the house to work one morning, I was sitting in the office, and he poked his head in the door. ‘Bye-bye beautiful, he said,’ and walked out.”

Fran, a long-time core member and very much house mother at Pat’s, has played a key role in making John D feel at home. Says Annika, “Fran has a gift for welcoming people. She was the one who took me by the hand at Solidarity Soup dinner and said, ‘Come here, let me introduce you to the rest of the crew.’”

On the weekend following John’s arrival, he and Fran did errands in Haverhill, accompanied by Webster, another assistant sharing time at Pat’s House. “It was wonderful,” Webster recalled, “to see the two of them together. Fran offered her arm for John to take, saying ‘C’mon Johnny Boy,’ but then whenever they came to a door, John insisted that Fran go first.”

John D was born in 1950 at Tewksbury State Hospital and was soon committed to the Fernald State School in Waltham. He remained at Fernald until the 1970s, with no outside family contact. Since then, he has been under DDS supervision in a variety of group-home and shared-living situations. Along the way, he developed a great friend and proxy in Denise Boucher, a former DDS service coordinator. It was Denise who helped John find L’Arche.

“When I visited L’Arche,” she said, “I could feel that it was very welcoming and that I could drop in anytime. You could tell they really meant it.”

Denise had grown close to John and she was worried about him moving too far from her home in Andover. “L’Arche helped me with that,” she said, “because when I met with everyone at the office, I was able to talk about my fears about the whole move. We met at Gandhi House with Frannie and the others he would be moving in with. They were so reassuring about how different his life would be, that the quality every day would be better.”

Only ten days into his life at L’Arche, the atmosphere at Pat’s House is never better, and John D and his welcoming committee have had a lot to do with that.