As a Catholic philosopher, and activist for the mentally disabled, his life's work has been based on the conviction that the "strong need the weak". How did Mr Vanier, 86, respond to his own triumph when he was today named as the 2015 winner of the Templeton Prize, a €1.7m (£1.2m) award for promoting spiritual awareness? Modestly.
He said he would give the money to his association, L'Arche, which has 147 communities around the world in which the mentally disabled live with the mentally able. "It will certainly go to help the poorer communities, maybe the one in Bangladesh," he said. Mr Vanier is a Canadian, born in Switzerland, who once served in the Royal Navy and has lived most of his life in France.
In 1964, he invited two mentally disabled men to leave their abusive institution and live with him in a small house in a village near Compiégne, 60 miles north of Paris. He still lives there.