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Henri Nouwen’s 25th Anniversary Memorial Celebration – by Carl MacMillan

The Spirit Movers are pictured here dancing at the memorial celebration for Henri Nouwen at Light on the Hill Community Church in Richmond Hill on September 21st.


Henri Nouwen was L’Arche Daybreak’s pastor from 1986 until his death in 1996. Twenty-five years later, Henri continues to inspire members of our community. We often find ourselves telling stories about Henri or sharing a passage from one of his books. Henri wrote ten books during the Daybreak years, including two that remain his most popular: The Return of the Prodigal Son and Life of the Beloved.


On September 21, the date of the 25th anniversary of Henri’s death, the Henri Nouwen Society & Legacy Trust, in association with Light on the Hill Community Church, held a memorial celebration on the grounds of the Church in Oak Ridges. Henri is buried in the adjacent St. John’s Cemetery. Light on the Hill Community Church has established the Henri J.M. Nouwen Centre for Worship and Prayer. The intimate memorial gathering included a strong contingent from Daybreak. Rev. Wendy Lywood gave a reading from Luke 15 – The Return of the Prodigal Son. Clara Fraschetti was one of the musicians who led the congregation in Taizé songs so favoured by Henri. Jacquie Boughner organized a lovely exhibit of art by Daybreak artists. The Spirit Movers danced with joy, delighting everyone present. The celebration concluded with a procession to Henri’s grave, where Father Bill Clarke led a moving blessing.


Henri found a place of home at Daybreak, yet his ministry was broad and varied. He was a revered teacher who had taught at the University of Notre Dame and the Schools of Divinity at Yale and Harvard. Henri was one of the most widely read spiritual writers of his time. He was global in his ministry for social justice. Henri became a passionate advocate for civil rights,  peace and non-violence, and for people with AIDS. A gifted speaker, Henri often developed his books through giving talks and homilies. At Daybreak, we often listened to those books emerge in his homilies at the original Dayspring chapel. Henri and Sue Mosteller forged a vision for a new Dayspring where Daybreak could welcome more people. Today’s Dayspring, completed in 1999, is dedicated in memory of Henri and Adam Arnett.


Carl MacMillan is a long-time member of the L’Arche Daybreak community. He served as Community Leader from 2005 to 2018. Carl sometimes travelled with Henri, Bill Van Buren and other community members to give talks and retreats.

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