The Road to Emmaus


Emmaus House, in New York City’s Harlem, is a community of formerly homeless people who serve the homeless. It was founded in the 1960s by Fr. David Kirk, a Melkite priest who became Orthodox a couple of years before his death in 2007. Fr. David was at the Catholic Worker before starting Emmaus House. He had thought of opening a house of hospitality in lower Manhattan, but Dorothy Day told him he should go to Harlem, and he did, with some friends who, like him, were inspired by Abbé Pierre, founder of the Emmaus movement in Europe. Kirk remained devoted to the memory of Dorothy Day and bought a burial plot not far from hers on Staten Island.

For some years Emmaus was active on several fronts, demonstrating on behalf of the poor, providing housing for people with AIDS, offering legal help to those unable to pay, conducting some vocational training. Over the past several years it has had to curtail its outreach. Fr. David’s failing health forced a drastic cut in Emmaus activities. Food and clothing are still distributed, and once a week the community’s van visits places where the homeless congregate, giving out soup, sandwiches, socks, and blankets.

I met David Kirk in the late ’60s, when he approached my father’s publishing company, Templegate, with a book proposal. He had gathered material from the Gospels and the fathers of the church, all focusing on our obligation to make peace and serve...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.