Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Catholic priest, enjoyed a long career as professor in Holland, at Notre Dame University, Yale, and Harvard. During his teaching years he began to publish his insights and as a spiritual writer published more than forty
books. People sought Henri out for retreats and spiritual conferences, as well as for personal spiritual direction, so he became a lecturer and a spiritual director. Henri lived a short stint as a Trappist monk, and a short time as a parish priest
in Lima, Peru.
In all his roles he was a passionate pastor, encouraging and calling forth those seeking a spiritual life.
In 1986 Henri responded to a call to become the pastor of L’Arche Daybreak, part of the International Federation
of L’Arche founded by Jean Vanier. His pastoral leadership brought wisdom and depth in a Christian community striving to find ways to live together and celebrate the gifts of each spiritual tradition held by Community Members, including Christianity,
the Islamic tradition, and Judaism.
Besides being so fruitful, Henri’s own spiritual journey was difficult and he found important inspiration from his friendship with Adam, a man with a disability for whom he was responsible at Daybreak;
from the paintings of the two Dutch artists, Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt; from a group of trapeze artists performing in the circus; and from the sacred Scriptures. He wrote about all of these influences in his books.
Henri was priest, professor,
spiritual writer, lecturer, spiritual director, monk, parish priest, and pastor. But most of all he was a man who cherished his many, many friends, and he was profoundly loved and treasured as friend in return. In all his prolific teaching, preaching,
and writing, Henri wasn’t afraid to talk about his personal experience, his needs and difficulties, because he believed that the spiritual journey included naming and working with our need for God and for each other. Henri’s spirituality
touched a common chord within the human heart and inspired people to become more accepting of their own and others’ wounds. People identified with his word so much, that one has said, ‘How did he know so well, the map of my heart?’
Another of Henri’s gifts was his ability to break open God’s Word as an invitation to spend our time in both personal solitude and caring community, and then to move out and share experiences with others by speaking, teaching, and writing.
In his later years, as Henri personally discovered God’s unconditional love by meditating on Rembrandt’s painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son, he could not cease to remind people,
‘You are the beloved daughters and sons of
God. God loves each of you with a unique and never-ending love. Listen for the voice of the one who loves you.’
Henri Nouwen lived for the last ten years of his life as the beloved pastor of L’Arche Daybreak. He died
in Holland on September 21, 1996, and is buried in Canada beside his beloved friends from the Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
This introduction is taken from Letters to Marc About Jesus (DLT: 2013). Sue
Mosteller is a Sister of St. Joseph, who for the past forty years has lived with people with disabilities in the L'Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto. She served as leader of the Interational Federation of L'Arche, working with Jean Vanier, and has had a
wide experience with different cultures and different religious traditions. Sue was a close friends and confidant of the late Henri Nouwen during the ten years he was pastor at Daybreak prior to his death.