St. Mary Parish, Catholic Social Service cultivated,
nurtured Emmaus House
By TIM WENZL
Southwest Kansas Register
Emmaus House, a homeless shelter, food pantry and soup kitchen, opened its doors at 802 N. Fifth in Garden City on Nov. 1, 1979.
The economy played a significant role in the need for a homeless shelter in Garden City. With the construction of the IBP beef packing plant just west of the city and the bust of the aircraft industry in Wichita, Garden City saw a large influx of people looking for work in 1979. The community lacked adequate housing and people were sleeping, eating, and camping in the dry Arkansas riverbed and the picnic shelters at the entrances to the city.
An Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of Directors of Catholic Social Service, appointed by Bishop Eugene J. Gerber, met Sept. 9 and Oct. 23 (1979) to evaluate services and make recommendations for addressing needs in the diocese. During this same time period, on Oct. 7, St. Mary Parish in Garden City held a brain -storming session about outreach ministry. Sister Frances Biernacki and Levita Rohlman working in the Garden City office of Catholic Social Service were members of St. Mary Parish.
Included in the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee was “The establishment of a home in Garden City to provide temporary quarters for families and individuals who have no place to stay.” The report also included the following information: “Between the meetings of the Committee, this problem was partially solved by individuals in Garden City. A suitable home was rented with the option to purchase and is being utilized by our agency to provide housing for transients and migrants, on a temporary basis.”
A big reason the shelter opened in less than a month after the parish meeting was the Rev. Mr. Gary Jarvis, a member of the Society of the Precious Blood, who began serving his deacon internship at St. Mary Parish in September.
“The homeless shelter was very important for Gary Jarvis,” recalled Levita Rohlman. “He had a passionate concern for the pressing needs of the poor. He was so enthusiastic that people jumped on his band wagon, and Emmaus House became a reality rather quickly.
“The name for the shelter was inspired by the Precious Blood Fathers and surfaced in a parish brainstorming session. The story ‘On the Road to Emmaus’ came up and the verse ‘They came to know him through the breaking of the bread,’ seemed to both define the purpose and the identity of the facility.”
The Garden City staff of Catholic Social Service collaborated with the St. Mary outreach committee to open Emmaus House. Parishioners donated approximately 1,000 hours of work to renovate the home. Carol Drake, a parishioner at St. Mary and a wife and mother, was the first director.
Emmaus House became a ministry embraced by the Garden City community. The Catholic Social Service staff and the Garden City Ministerial Alliance developed a strong connection in providing for the ongoing expenses and monetary needs of the shelter and guests. At least 10 of Garden City’s churches have provided monetary support for this ministry. The Ministerial Alliance continues to host community programs with music and a speaker at Thanksgiving and Christmas during which donations are collected to support the shelter.
Emmaus House was affiliated with Catholic Social Service until it became independent of the Agency on July 1, 1999. At that time the Diocese of Dodge City transferred title to the property. After the Garden City Deanery leg of the Catholic Social Service endowment drive in the 1990s, approximately $107,000 earmarked for the shelter was distributed to Emmaus House.
Editor’s Note: The Rev. Mr. Jarvis, C.PP.S., developed a strong relationship with St. Mary Parish during his deacon internship and received permission from his superiors to be ordained in Garden City. He was ordained by Bishop Gerber on Nov. 1, 1980, on the first anniversary of the opening of Emmaus House. Father Jarvis died in Kansas City, Mo., on July 24, 1988, following a month-long stay in a hospital due to viral pneumonia with complications.