The Rev. David Kirk

Funeral services for the Rev. David Kirk, 72, who was attached to Saint Sergius of Radonezh Chapel, Syosset, NY, will be celebrated at Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 15 East 97 Street, New York City, at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 29, 2007.

Father David fell asleep in the Lord of heart failure early Wednesday morning at Emmaus House/Harlem, a community he formed in 1965 to feed the hungry and to assist those in need.

Visitation will be held at the Peter Jarema Funeral Home, 129 East 7 Street, New York City, on Monday, May 28.

Born in Louisville, MS in 1935, Father David was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood of the Melkite Catholic Church in 1963. On March 30, 2004, he was canonically received into the Orthodox Church in America and attached to Saint Sergius Chapel.

According to Dr. Albert J. Raboteau, a member of the Emmaus House Board, Father David had a life-long interest in interracial justice. As editor of his high school newspaper in Mobile, AL, he spent several weeks attending the local black high school to investigate first hand the inequities of segregation. In 1956, his junior year at the University of Alabama, Arthurine Lucy’s attempt to integrate the school was met with mob violence. He joined with several other students to shield her as she moved about campus. His correspondence with William Faulkner during that same year elicited a letter—later published—detailing the famous author’s views on segregation.

Drawn to Catholicism by the example of a Catholic campus chaplain who supported integration, he joined the Melkite Catholic Church before graduation. After teaching in Alabama public schools, and continuing his civil rights activism, he moved to New York City and began working with Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker House on the Bowery. Feeling the call to priesthood, he traveled to Rome and was admitted to Beda College. After his ordination to the priesthood, he returned to Birmingham, where he joined the civil rights demonstrations, met and was jailed with Martin Luther King, Jr., and preached from the pulpit of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, one week before four little girls were killed by a bomb blast in the church basement.

Returning to New York City, Father David planned to start a house of hospitality on the lower east side, but was advised by Dorothy Day to go to Harlem. Following the example of the Emmaus movement founded in Paris by Abbe Pierre, he decided that it was not enough to feed the poor; it was crucial to enable the poor with the skills to help themselves. Emmaus House, in his vision, was not a shelter, but a community of the poor living together and working together to help those in need. True empowerment of the poor, he realized, meant that Emmaus would be run by the poor. Emmaus eventually developed two guesthouses for hospitality, served full meals to others daily, and sent out vans to deliver food to the homeless on the streets. Over the decades, Emmaus became involved in a series of social justice activities, creating advocacy programs for housing, legal services, and AIDS assistance. Another community of 60 apartments with 90 people, Emmaus Inns, was established as a model of scattered site housing. During the Vietnam War Era, Father David was arrested in non-violent protests against the war and against nuclear armament.

Over the last few years, Father David’s health deteriorated due to kidney failure. Due to the decline in his health, Emmaus House became smaller, but it still serves the poor through its food pantry, hospitality, and day-to-day operations run by the poor and the formerly homeless themselves.

Father David is survived by two sisters, Mary Barrell of Metairie, LA, and Barbara Pace of Bessemer, AL, and five nieces and four nephews.

May Father David’s memory be eternal!