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50 weeks of L’Arche Erie! – Week 1

In honor of our 50th birthday next year we will be starting the 50 weeks of L’Arche to commemorate our amazing community! Every Sunday check back to learn more about L’Arche, our mission, and the reason we do what we do!

Let us start week one by telling you the story of how L’Arche Erie first came to be:

It was 1968 and a man by the name of Father Stephen Sommerville attended a retreat in Canada. Three years later, Fr Stephen invited a close friend from Erie, named Sister Barbara Ann Karznia, to attend a faith and sharing retreat in Ontario. Sr. Barbara was teaching at Gannon College and she in turn invited Fr. George Strohmeyer also at Gannon to accompany her. Later retreats in Chicago and Cleveland deepened their interest in L’Arche as they attended two more retreats and visited L’Arche communities in Canada and France. At Trosly (the first L’Arche community) they made a four-week retreat, early in 1972. In August of 1972, Sr. Barbara and Fr. George were asked if they were ready to begin their commitment of building a home right here in Erie, PA!

After returning from Trosly in January of 1972, Father George and Sister Barbara met with one of their former students, Cheryl Ott and her parents. The core group made a commitment among themselves to open a L’Arche home. Father George can often be heard repeating Barbara’s words, “Let’s do something together for God,” and this they did. The group would meet on Sunday evenings with persons of disability from the Dr. Gertrude Barber Center. They would pray, sing, and be together learning how to be present with those who would be at the heart of their future community. On certain Fridays they would meet with a group from United Cerebral Palsy. By April of 1972 they had successfully contacted Jim Bryon, a rehabilitation counselor at Polk, a nearby state institution and eventually Jim received permission to release two men and two women.

The group found a suitable house in the fall. The Ott’s agreed to put up the ten thousand dollar down payment. Fr George and Sr Barbara pledged their salaries from teaching to support the home (also by working in the home without requesting salary). By November, four residents of Polk were ready to come to the new home. Sr Barbara and Cheryl were the first assistants to Shirley Hoffman, Bill Kohler, John Sytar and Donna Carr, while Fr George continued to live at the rectory but was present at the home constantly.

And on November 22, 1972, the first L’Arche Erie group moved into their new home at 342 West Fifth Street in Erie, Pa!

L’Arche Erie now has 8 homes in the Erie, Millcreek, Fairview, and Lake city areas with 28 Core Members, which also includes our two life sharing families! L’Arche has 63 wonderful assistants/home leaders who all bring so much love and joy into each core members life.

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