The first seeds of Emmaus Ministries were planted when a soup kitchen opened its doors in January 1974 on East 16th Street at Immaculate Conception Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. There was one guest who showed up for a meal that evening. The ministry was an outreach of the Pax Center, a living community sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. The community, conceived by Sister Mary Lou Kownacki, committed itself to the pursuit of peace and justice. Sister Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski ran the soup kitchen as it moved to its second location at 4th and Holland Streets in May of that year and remained there until May 1980.
In 1980, Sister Mary Miller assumed the role of director at Emmaus Ministries. Emmaus has always been a ministry of being Christ for others and seeing Christ in others, especially as bread is broken and shared, as in the gospel story for which it is named.
Sister Carolyn Gorny-Kopkkowski serves soup to a guest.
Emmaus Soup Kitchen at its Parade Street location
By 1983, Emmaus expanded and a food pantry joined alongside the soup kitchen as another way to feed the poor. Working with Second Harvest Food Bank, the pantry became a way for the poor of Erie to be nourished with supplemental food.
Sister Gus’ Kids Cafe became the third main ministry of Emmaus in 2000. An after-school program for children from surrounding public schools, the Kids Cafe offered a safe, welcoming, and creative atmosphere for children to come after the school day and receive a warm, nourishing dinner.
To this day, children from 6-17 walk into the Kids Cafe after school greeted by adults who are committed to making a difference in the world.
With the Kids Cafe located on the bottom floor of the former St. Mary’s School on 10th and German Streets, many vacant classrooms on the upper floors were ready to be put to use. The Studio at St. Mary’s: Space to Create launched in 2015. Local artists rented classrooms-turned-art studios and the unused rooms quickly became a colorful, creative, and inspiring space. A variety of artistic areas are represented by those using the space: painting, textiles, writing, video production, wood turning, yoga, and more.
Two years prior, Emmaus Grove: The Erie Urban Farm School planted its first seeds in 2013. A neighborhood garden, it is completely supported by volunteers including Penn State Master Gardeners who coordinate and supervise during the growing season. Each summer and fall, volunteers distribute over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce to guests coming through the food line at Emmaus Food Pantry.
In May 2023, Sister Mary Miller, Emmaus Director for 42 years passed away. Sister Valerie Luckey, who had worked alongside Sister Mary as a ministry assistant, became the third director of Emmaus Ministries.
From humble beginnings—a simple cup of soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwich—to today’s full supper meals, Emmaus Ministries remains committed to its two-fold motto: Bread for the Body. Care for the Soul. Behind each of these varied outreaches of the ministry lies a simple truth: Each human being has value. We all deserve to be nourished, body and soul.
Artwork by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS